Tuesday, December 20, 2016

City Sidewalks Dressed in Holiday Style

🎶 City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style....🎶

For all that I love the woods and wild lands of upstate New York, there is nothing quite like a visit to New York City at Christmas.  As I write this, Christmas is just a few days away, so I'm taking the easy way and sharing my photos with only brief commentary.  I hope you enjoy these visions of my December day in Midtown with Meredith. 

From Penn Station, we began our Christmas tour with Macy's windows.  I loved this one where Santa reads from the pile of authentic children's letters sent over many decades through Macy's Christmas Mailbox.

Macy's still has their "Yes, Virginia" windows, but we had fun with these interactive windows on the other side of the building.  Meredith put her hand on the heat-sensitive square to find out if she is naughty or nice --  "naughty" for sure.  As a twist on the theme, my hand indicated that I was "merry."  I'll go for that!

Inside Macy's, glittering ceiling arrangements drew our eyes upward. 

And rotating dioramas were interspersed across the ceiling, each illustrating a Christmas theme.

Lord & Taylor did a beautiful job of decorating the scaffolding around their building.  Pedestrians became part of this sparkling green forest.

Just days before this trip, my mother and I had gathered greens in the woods and cut red winterberries in a nearby swamp, where I soaked my boots.  Meredith said with a grin, "This is how city people get their greens." 

No poinsettias and holly this year. White, green, and glittering snow was clearly the indoor decorating theme in the big department stores.  Take a look at the ceiling of Saks!  It doesn't get more beautiful than this.

In her travels as a music therapist and city resident, Meredith finds lots of interesting places.  She took me inside the old Charles Scribner Building, now a Sephora store. Employees appeared well-acquainted with tourists coming in to see this perfectly preserved Beaux Arts architecture.

Speaking of architecture, St. Patrick's Cathedral's cleaning inside and out is finally complete. The stone is pristine and the stained-glass brilliant.

And this large nativity, set up near the altar, awaits the baby's arrival.

Just behind St. Patrick's on Madison Avenue is the Villard Mansion, built in 1884.  We walked through the gate, past the decorated tree, and right into the old mansion.

Imagine this as your private home!  Again, we appreciated that this building, now the lobby and offices of the New York Palace Hotel, has been meticulously preserved.

I couldn't miss the police presence at Trump Tower.  Fencing, tape, and at least 30 policemen cordoned off the block of Trump Tower and the two adjacent blocks.  No wonder Mayor di Blasio is worrying about his budget.

Just as the Cratchits were merrier from "the mere relief of Scrooge the Baleful being done with," we returned to the innocence of childhood at Christmas after having put Trump behind us.

Meredith planned our walk to include lunch in the Food Hall of the Plaza Hotel, and you can't go to the Plaza without finding Eloise.  The Food Hall has created a perfect event space for little girls' tea parties with their Eloise dolls and books.

All those colored pieces, of what appear to be fabric on a rack, are actually pasta -- how beautiful!  While the Food Hall offers many options, we knew that we would go Italian for lunch, and chose Ora di Pasta.

This is one reason that Meredith and I get along so well -- variations on pasta with pesto -- Yummm.

What a surprise that Meredith scheduled the Radio City Christmas Spectacular into our day!  Fearing that we might have rain, she had looked for indoor options and came across seats with "limited view" at a very reasonable price.

It turned out that we had our own row right up next to the stage.  We had all the space in the world with no one next to us and a view up-close-and-personal of the Rockettes at our end of the stage!  And bah-humbug on the limited view -- we could see almost everything.  What fun!

Our Midtown Christmas visit was coming to a close. On the way back to Penn, we checked out the Christmas markets at Bryant Park, where I had a nutritious snack of thick dark hot chocolate with a large homemade marshmallow, and an authentic Belgian waffle. 

Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year to all of my blog readers!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Hong's Trees

I had been watching the little maple tree across the street, waiting for its leaves to turn yellow.  The tree appeared healthy and would be fine when Hong returned, if she returned.

"I shut everything off in my apartment this time. I never do that," she had said, "I might not come back." She planned to spend three months in China visiting her 98 year-old mother, and return before Christmas.

This past Spring, Hong walked across the street to speak to me when I was in the my yard.  "I was so rude to you," she said.

"What do you mean?" I was confused.

"When I came over and wanted to cut down your flowers."

Some of you may remember one of my earlier blog posts, in which I included Hong's appearance at my front door brandishing her clippers. She claimed that she was allergic to my flowers and could help me out by cutting them down. (http://nooksandvales.blogspot.com/2010/07/dankers-global-village.html)

"Oh," I said. "That was years ago.  Don't worry about it!"

"But I was so rude," she exclaimed again.  Then she said, "I'm dying.  I have cancer.  I'm going for more tests."

Now her confession about the flowers made sense to me. I asked her about her diagnosis. She rubbed her abdomen, and added, "it's everywhere."

A few weeks later, she again came striding across the street from her apartment.  This time she said, "I want to plant trees.  You can help me, because your trees are very healthy.  I have watched them grow."

In the last ten years, I had planted two trees in our front yard, a flowering crabapple and a linden tree. They had done well.

"Trees will be my children.  I will plant lots of trees.  They will be here a long time after I die."

"Where will you plant them?" I asked.

"I got permission from the owner of the apartments to put one in the yard.  He says, 'only evergreen trees.  Only evergreen trees.'  And I want a tree between the sidewalk and the street.  That one doesn't have to be an evergreen tree."

"But that's city property. You have to get a city tree."

"I won't pay money to the city for my tree. It will be free.  I have permission to plant one."  Hong had certainly done her homework.

In a couple of days, a pick-up truck arrived carrying a small spruce tree. "My friends gave it to me," she said. As soon as they left, Hong began to dig a hole with a shovel.  Hours passed and she was still digging. At 70, she appeared too strong to be dying.  I went to bed.  In the morning, the tree stood in a circle of new earth, green and healthy.


When I saw Hong later that day, working in the earth, she said, "It's too deep."  In fact, it was planted a little low in the ground.

"It will be okay," I said.

"No, I looked on the computer.  It is not good."

By evening, she had pulled the tree out of the hole she had spent hours digging the night before. The forlorn little spruce lay upside down on the grass, with its roots in the air.  It remained there the following day, and the next, and would surely die from this exposure, I thought.  But the third evening, Hong was back, digging late into the darkness. In the morning, the tree stood upright and even with the ground.

I didn't see Hong for another couple of days.  When I did, she said, "I had to stop digging the first night.  That's why I left the tree. I was so tired." 

"I bet you were!  You were digging for hours."

"Midnight, and then I had to stop.  The manager of the apartments was angry with me. I tried to explain, but he has trouble with my 'Chinglish,' so I just said, 'my cancer hurts,' and I rubbed my belly. That scared him."  She laughed, thinking how she had found a way to end the conversation. "Tell me what I should do now. You know about trees."

"I don't have any advice," I said.

"You are the expert.  What did you do to make your trees grow?"

"Not much, really. I just watered them."

"Oh! Water,"  she said.  The next day she reported her newest research on the computer. "I learned about my tree, and you were right. You said I should water.  How much water?  Every day?  What did you do? I don't know anything about plants."

That appeared to be true.  Hong had retired from a career in molecular biology research at UAlbany.  Her life experience had not taught her about trees.

I realized that she wanted specifics.  "Two buckets of water every other day," I told her. She repeated what I had said.

One day, a little maple tree appeared between the sidewalk and the street.  It was thin and spindly, with no more than twenty leaves. Besides digging another big hole for this second tree, Hong had added a layer of pine cones as mulch.

She came running across the street. "There are little bits of new green on the evergreen tree!  You told me, 'just water.'  And I did. Other places that I go, I see trees now that are dying. People don't know, or they are lazy.  They have not done what you said.  They should have watered their trees."  She pointed to a couple of young cedars alongside a neighbor's house.  "See? Now I know. They did not water their trees, and look, the leaves are all brown. You know about trees." Sometimes I, too, had trouble with her Chinglish, especially when she was excited, but I could tell that she was happy.

And the new maple?  "Oh, very fragile, but I give it two buckets of water every two days, just like you told me."

In past years, when I had watered my new trees, I carried two 5-gallon buckets from the faucet on the front of the house to the trees, only 10 or 20 feet away.  Hong was carrying smaller buckets, perhaps 3-gallons each. She filled them in her upstairs apartment, brought them down the stairs, and lugged them to the maple about thirty feet from her door and to the spruce tree perhaps eighty feet away.  Watering her trees was a lot of hard work.

She was not so happy the next time I saw her.  "The children ride their bicycles too close to my tree. They might run into it. I got mad at them but they don't care, and their mother doesn't care either.  They are bad children and their mother doesn't teach them to be good."

A Middle Eastern family had moved into the complex with a few children, who befriended other children.  I had seen them from my house and been impressed by how well all the siblings and friends played together, but they had not charmed Hong.

A second time Hong reprimanded the children, and she reported their behavior to the apartment-complex manager. I said, "You might want to be careful. Kids can be mean.  They might decide to hurt the tree just to make you mad."  I didn't know what Hong's childhood in China had been like, but I knew that even nice kids can act out of spite.

"Oh," she said. "I won't say anything more.  You are very wise."  She made the circle of dirt around the spruce tree wider, and put posts and plastic string around the maple.  It would be harder to run down the trees with this added buffer. She also told me, "I decided to take a picture of my trees.  The mother saw me with my camera and thought I was taking pictures of her children. I think that scared her.  Now the kids don't come around, because the mother didn't want their picture taken."

I could imagine that the mother was afraid. Over the 33 years that Bill and I have lived across from the apartments, we have seen various waves of immigrants. Most notable were the Russian families, whose children became friends with our children.  I didn't know what this Middle Eastern family's experience had been, but I could imagine events that might have forced them to leave their homeland and made them fearful.

The truce over the trees didn't last long. One early morning, I was leaving the house, when Hong came over with tears in her eyes, holding a pie pan full of greens.  "Look!  Look!"  I saw the fresh twigs of new growth.  "They broke the ends off the branches," she cried.

Up and down the street, Hong told her story, both to the apartment residents, and to homeowners.  All of the neighbors had been watching her care for her trees over the past months. One of the apartment residents complained to the manager.

"That's good," I said. "It was good that someone else told the manager about the children, instead of you. The people here care about your trees." 

"Yes," she said with a solemn face, "you are right." 

I didn't see Hong for weeks. One warm summer evening, I sat on my front steps looking for fireflies around 10 p.m., when she came out of her apartment, buckets in hand.  I watched for a few moments and then I went across the street to talk to her. "I come out with buckets at night, every two days, like you told me," she said.  From then on, I often looked out the front door before I went to bed, and there she was, hauling buckets.

It was easy to praise her efforts, because her trees were thriving despite the hot dry weather. "If I live long enough, I will plant trees along this whole street," she said. "They will be my big family of children."

"Good," I said. "I hope you live a long time."

As summer passed into fall, I knew that Hong planned an extended visit to her mother in China. I agreed to continue watering her trees in her absence, although I felt the weight of this responsibility.

When she came out of her apartment one September day, her words of excitement couldn't come fast enough. "I found a BIG man to water the trees. He is more than two times as big as you. He said he will water the trees when I go see my mama."  A big man was a great idea, but I wondered if he would be reliable.  Hong continued, "I make you supervisor!  You make sure he does a good job."  I didn't relish this role.

A few days after Hong left for China, I checked the earth beneath the trees.  It seemed pretty dry, and I hadn't seen anyone tending them.  I carried a couple of buckets of water to each tree.

At the end of the week, I checked again.  Hmm, kind of dry.  I brought the first bucket over to the maple tree, when a large Middle Eastern man came out of the door of an apartment next to Hong's.  He said, with a heavy accent, "Are you taking care of the trees?"

"Oh!" I said in surprise. "Are you the man who is watering them?"  He nodded yes, and I explained that, since I hadn't seen him, I hadn't been sure, but that I was very grateful, and that the trees looked very good, and, finally, that I would be glad to leave the job to him.  Whew, so much for my supervisory duties.

In the two months since, I have never seen the big man water the trees. Maybe he goes out at midnight like Hong did.  I did, however, notice which car he drove, and, one day, when I knew he was gone, I checked the earth underneath the trees, and it was damp.  I have not checked since. Now, in late November, the trees are settling in for the winter.

And in a few weeks, Hong should return.  Her trees are waiting.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Autumn and Emily

(Moxham Mountain, Minerva, New York)

Many of you know that I am obsessive about colored leaves.  I spot them the minute they appear, and
I keep looking until the last one falls to the ground.  Since I have written a few blog posts in the past about fall foliage, I have decided to let Emily Dickinson write this year's.  I tried to pick lines from her poems that illustrate my photographs.  I hope you enjoy this photo poem from Emily and me.

(Kennebunkport, Maine)

Besides the Autumn poets sing,
A few prosaic Days
A little this side of the snow
And that side of the Haze --

(Calamity Brook Trail, Tahawus, New York)

Autumn begins to be inferred
By millinery of the cloud,
Or deeper color in the shawl
That wraps the everlasting hill.

(West Artlington, Vermont)

The Clouds their Backs together laid
The North begun to push
The Forests galloped till they fell

(East Arlington, Vermont)

Without commander, countless, still,
The regiment of wood and hill
In bright detachment stand.


(Holderness, New Hampshire)

She sweeps with many brooms,
And leaves the shreds behind
Oh housewife in the evening west,
Come back and dust the pond!


(Gilmanton, New Hampshire)

Like mighty footlights burned the red
At bases of the trees--
The far theatricals of day
Exhibiting to these.


(Moxham Mountain, Minerva, New York)

The Maple wears a gayer scarf--
The field a scarlet gown--
Lest I should be old fashioned
I'll put a trinket on.

(Pilot Knob Ridge, Fort Ann, New York)

Frequently the woods are pink--
Frequently are brown.
Frequently the hills undress
Behind my native town.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Backpacking Women

(Denise, Gretchen, Sue, Martha, and Kendra ready to set out!)

Whenever something changes in my hiking life, I rethink my future in the outdoors.  Last year, when my daughter, Meredith, and I finished hiking the 46 high peaks of the Adirondacks, I thought about what we might do next.  Meredith and I definitely planned to keep hiking, but it would not be the priority that it had been, and so many things make demands on our time.

I knew that I wanted to continue to backpack into the wilderness, if for no other reason than to wake up to a sunrise by a remote pond.  I couldn't think of anyone who would want to do this with me, if Meredith were not available.  Then I remembered what I always remember: clubs exist just for this reason.  As a long-time hiking leader for the Albany Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), I decided to offer a women's backpacking overnight trip.

(Setting up the campsite)

The trip would be short but beautiful, with just 6/10ths of a mile of backpacking our gear from our cars to Round Pond.  Included would be a hike up nearby Noonmark Mountain from the same trail that we would take to the pond.  I also offered a second-day hike up Baxter Mountain, for those who wanted to fit in a little more before making the trek back home.

I limited the group size to six, including myself, and ended up with the most congenial, interesting, enjoyable, adventurous group of women I could imagine.  Each of them had a reason for choosing to do this trip.  A couple of women had never backpacked before, and wanted to try it out.  One of them was planning to hike the high peaks, and was considering backpacking in to some of them, as Meredith and I had.  Two others had backpacked in the past, and were contemplating getting back into it. They thought that my trip would be the perfect refresher.  Another wanted to sign up for an adventure travel outing in the West, that entailed hiking over mountains with full packs. She hoped to be able to gauge her abilities by joining this trip.

(Round Pond with Noonmark in the distance, upon our arrival at our campsite)

During the weeks preceding the trip, I sent emails with details regarding gear, food, and specifics.  With six people, we would need three two-person tents and three bear canisters (required in the eastern high peaks area). It happened that we broke easily into pairs. What an absolutely no-stress beginning!  And what's more, our couple of days defied the trend of this hot humid summer with a forecast of dry cool air!  Emails circulated expressing excited anticipation.

We were not all coming from the Capital Region, so we met at the trailhead, where we combined our shared gear and finished loading our packs...and then we heaved our packs onto our shoulders.  There is nothing quite so surprising as the heavy-weight feeling of loading a pack onto your back, or the weightless feeling of taking a big pack off.

(Kendra, Virginia, Denise, Sue, Gretchen, and Martha on Noonmark's windy summit)

The trail to Round Pond ascends moderately right away.  A few people made slight adjustments to their pack straps and became comfortable with the change in balance that an additional 25 or more pounds on the back creates.

Round Pond has a few designated wilderness tent spots, and we checked out all of them.  The first one was big enough for our three tents.  Not only that, it was closest to the pond.  Round Pond did not disappoint.  Despite its short distance from the road, it felt very remote and quiet, surrounded by mountains.

(A panoramic view of high peaks from Noonmark)

Setting up camp didn't take much time.  Besides being light, backpacking gear has to be simple!  We had lunch at the pond's edge, and then set off on the trail again.  This time, we carried little, just water and snacks, as we headed up Noonmark.

Noonmark Mountain is a mid-level hike at 6 miles round-trip with 2000 feet of elevation gain.  The trail is a typical Adirondack trail, built in a continuous incline, in order to reach the top in the shortest amount of distance.  There are a few rock scrambles, and we stopped regularly to take a breath.

Perfect weather and a spectacular view allowed us to see far and wide.  A stiff wind blew across the summit, just enough to cool us after our ascent, but not enough to make us take cover.

(Giant Mountain from the summit of Noonmark)

We returned to the campsite in time for dinner.  Now, late August, darkness would come by 7:30, and even earlier when the sun set behind a mountain.

I didn't ask each person what she brought for dinner, although I was a little curious. I had emailed them many non-perishable, energizing, food suggestions, but I know that my choices would not be the choices of others.  Still, I saw very little peanut butter.  I did see some chocolate, however.  Some things are worth a little extra weight!

(Denise and Gretchen share wine at the campsite)

Bears were a chief concern for the group.  I helped each pair determine where the bear canisters should be placed -- a distance away from the tents, but not so far that we wouldn't find them in the morning, and between rocks or logs, where they would be less likely to roll away if a bear pawed them.  The news had reported that bears were marauding more this summer, due to the drought. Being extra careful with our food was necessary.

(Sue passes the time with a little evening Sudoku)

As darkness descended, we watched for stars.  Little had we known that we had an astronomy afficionado among us!  She pointed out the early bright stars and told us where the Milky Way would appear as the evening progressed.  I brought my sleeping pad down to the rocks by the pond and lay on my back, watching the sky.  Others brought something to sit on, and two women chose, instead, to relax in their tent and read by head lamp.

(Gretchen and Kendra filter water)

What a night for stargazing! The day's clear atmosphere extended into the moonless night.  Stars filled our entire range of vision.  Every few minutes the lights of an airplane crossed the sky. We were surprised to see so many.  Where might they be coming from or going to? 

The night was quiet, except for the occasional croak of a bull frog or splash of a fish.  And we had nothing better to do than to be here under a canopy of stars, "away from it all."

(Evening at Round Pond)

In the morning, most of the women professed to having slept fairly well, and to having been fairly comfortable, an accomplishment for sure!

I was really pleased that, even though the trip had been short, each person felt that she had learned something.  Two determined that, yes, they could backpack a few miles and camp on their way to climbing peaks.  Others had definite  new insights into how they would tweak their gear.  Perhaps less clothing, a different piece of clothing, a change in food choice, or whether they would prefer carrying a water filter or purification tablets.  The woman who was contemplating a western backpacking trip decided that her days for such strenuous hikes were behind her, but have no doubt -- this lady is out there and everywhere taking on new adventures!

(Sue and Martha ready to hike out)

We had our breakfast by the pond, as the mist rose, and the sun promised another perfect day.  This time I saw that we all had meals of yogurt, granola, fruit, or a hard boiled egg, a roll....  Heated food was not missed, but coffee was. No one had chosen to bring a stove. By the same token, no one admitted to a strong desire for hot water being one of the things they learned on this trip. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if a couple of people would add a stove to their list, should they decide to backpack again.

(Morning mist on Round Pond)

After breakfast, we packed up, folding tents and sleeping bags. Once again, we shoved and squeezed to fit everything into the small space of our packs.  Then we left the quiet of our pond, and set off for the parking area.

Two of the women headed back to the Capital Region, while the other four of us visited SubAlpine Coffee in Keene Valley.  This cafe just opened in 2015 and what a treat!  We all managed to bypass the delectable pastries in the case, having just had our cold camp breakfast. Coffee was the priority.  So was the comfy furniture.  We would have fallen asleep, if we hadn't left when we did. SubAlpine is a place to keep in mind.

(Gretchen and Kendra have snacks on the summit of Baxter)

In the end, three of us chose to hike Baxter Mountain.  Unlike the previous day's Noonmark Mountain, Baxter is easy and has numerous switchbacks, with just 1.1 miles one-way and 770 feet of elevation gain. We reached the summit in about 40 minutes.  Baxter's many ledges offer an astounding view for the amount of time and effort.  We relaxed on the summit through the mid-morning, bringing our overnight getaway to a pleasing closure.

(Views from Baxter are beautiful)

This outings was certainly one of the highlights of my summer.  Offering an overnight trip in the woods to a group of ADK participants had been a little out of my comfort zone, yet everything had gone wonderfully. I learned that it's not hard to find women who want to backpack, or who at least want to give it a try.  I am already mulling over ideas to offer next year, but, for now, I am very happy with my memories of this year's adventure.

(Mount Marcy and other peaks in the distance from Baxter)