Friday, April 30, 2021

The Fenimore Museum and more!

(The Fenimore Art Museum with pots of daffodils)


What a treat to go on a cultural outing to the Fenimore Museum in Cooperstown! The last museum Bill and I visited was in 2019, also to the Fenimore and with friends no less.  This time we went on our own, reveled in the rural scenery along route 20, and anticipated a pleasant day trip.

When I saw in the newspaper that the Fenimore was featuring an exhibit of Jan Brett paintings from her beautifully illustrated children's books, I was determined to go.  I had discovered Jan Brett in the public library when my own children were small. 

(Our family's collection of Jan Brett's books)

During my 13 years working in the children's department of Barnes & Noble, I became enamored of Jan Brett's written and illustrated books.  I bought a few for my children and for gifts.  Occasionally, I had them signed when Jan came to Barnes & Noble for booksignings.

We all appreciated the authenticity of the paintings.  At that time, most of Jan's books took place in the deep snow of Ukraine and Scandinavia.  That she traveled to these countries so that her depictions of the scenery, characters, and customs were accurate seemed exotic to us. 

(Lots of holiday baked goods in The Gingerbread Friends)

The exhibit at the Fenimore showcased her newer books from the 2010s.  Jan's illustrations still have her trademark fine watercolor detail, and the charming border drawings that tell an additional story. 

How Jan Brett has branched out over the years while I have not been watching!  There are now books on Noah's Ark, China, Africa, space, and even the bottom of the sea. Short of going to outerspace, Jan has visited each country she illustrates, claiming that being a writer/illustrator has made for a fascinating life.

(The Turnip)


I took my time finding all the details in the pictures, but I gravitated to a simple story published in 2015, The Turnip.  The turnip grows to be so huge that no one can get it out of the ground, until...!  The story and illustrations are fun, and perfect for very young children.  I thought of my little grandchildren.

(A rainforest scene in The Umbrella)


I was particularly taken with her rainforest book, The Umbrella, so different from the stories with which my children had been familiar.  Educators had requested that she write a tropical version of The Mitten, her classic story based on the Ukrainian folk tale.  To learn about the landscape and animals of the rainforest, Jan traveled to Costa Rica.  She said, "I bought every color of green paint I could, and then I mixed even more greens."

(A young boy peers into the distance as birds and animals create a story in the border paintings)

Although Jan Brett's paintings had drawn Bill and me to the Fenimore, we were also intrigued by another temporary exhibit, Ansel Adams's photographs of the Manzanar War Relocation Center.  Adams created a visual documentary of life in the Japanese internment camps in California during World War II.  While he portrayed the faces and character of the people who lived in the camps, the majority of his pictures show the evacuees, as they were called, doing everyday things -- going to school, reading the newspaper, farming.

(This exhibit features some original magazine covers and artifacts as well as Adams's photos)

More than twenty years later, in 1965, after Adams published the photographs, he said, "The purpose of my work was to show how these people, suffering under a great injustice, and loss of property, businesses and professions, had overcome the sense of defeat and despair by building for themselves a vital community in an arid (but magnificent) environment." 

(Adams titled his book of photographs Born Free and Equal)

My custom when I go to a museum is to read all of the descriptions and study the pictures.  Once I've seen the entire exhibit, I walk back through to find the pictures that I either like the best or that I find most thought provoking.   

I found the above picture fascinating. Adams's Manzanar photographs had their first showing in 1944 to people of Japanese descent.  I wonder how the viewers perceived these photos of their contemporaries and how different their thoughts were from our impressions of the same pictures today.


These two attractive young people were anticipating their return to life outside the camp.  The young woman is quoted as saying in 1944, "I have come to realize the false sense of security I enjoyed prior to the war."  Ansel Adams's response to this comment was, "Perhaps this sense of security will be re-established as she discovers her place in American life."  One can only wonder how her sense of self as a Japanese-American may have resolved itself.


The Fenimore always has an area showcasing the work of a contemporary or local painter.  This picture, entitled 2020 was painted in 2020 by Mary Nolan, who is inspired by water both at Otsego Lake and at tidal locations.  I found the picture intriguing with its stark trees, low water exposing the island's rock, all beneath a stormy but bright sky that lights the water.  I wonder what the artist thought the viewer might take from 2020.

(Otsego Lake)

After a cup of tea at the Fenimore Cafe and a perusal of the gift shop, Bill and I walked behind the museum to the shoreline of Otsego Lake.  The calm gray day was reflected in the water with the hills, a couple of waterfront houses, and a farm field beyond.  An allee of old maple trees interspersed with younger replacements created its own natural artistry on this beautiful property.  


(The allee leads to Otsego Lake and other paths)

We had had a great day at the Fenimore but now we were hungry.  Where to go?  Not surprisingly, we ended up at Brooks' Bar-B-Q, a local classic for sure.  Brooks is still going strong, open for take-out or curbside during Covid.  We carried our barbecued chicken dinners to Brooks's attractive picnic area.

(We even parked right under the sign)

A side note:  While perfecting their recipe, the Brookses trained in Prattsville on Bill's family farm,  known for its huge flock of fine chickens.  The Brookses began catering in 1951 using the original recipe created at Cornell University.  And the rest of this story about the Brooks family, that continues to cook 3000 to 4000 chickens a week for churches and fundraisers (pre-Covid) and more at their restaurant, is history!


(Bill often barbecues chicken using the recipe from this early Cornell pamphlet.)


Sunday, February 14, 2021

My Windham High Peak Covid Challenge

Virginia, February 2021

The idea of hiking Windham High Peak in the northern Catskills every month of the year was not my initial intention. In early March 2020, I had scheduled an Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) hike to the Tongue Mountain Range overlooking Lake George in the Adirondacks.  I was excited to have a full group of 12 participants but, as the date approached, news of the Coronavirus reaching the United States, then the east coast, and eventually New York City suddenly raised concern.

Carpooling no longer seemed safe. Participants began emailing me that they planned to drive alone to the trailhead.  When I remembered that the parking area for the Tongue Mountain hike would only hold about five vehicles, I realized that I needed to come up with a different location.


The Three Jims socially distanced, March 2020

The large parking lot at Windham High Peak fit the bill.  In addition, this mountain is not far from the Albany area and seemed an environmentally conscious option if each car would only include the driver. I knew that many of my participants would decide not to join in such a dramatic change of plans and was not surprised that, of my original group of twelve, just three chose to attend the revised hike.

Spring Beauties, May 2020

Jim C., Jim G., and Jim O., all men with whom I had hiked many times, were enthusiastic about the new plan. The four of us enjoyed the trail, the camaraderie and the views.  We agreed that Windham High Peak had been an excellent alternate hike on a beautiful late-winter day.

Looking east towards Albany, June 2020


Lush forest green, June 2020

By April, the Governor encouraged people to stay close to home, which, for me, did not include the Adirondacks.  I returned to Windham High Peak because I wanted to hike, knew it had a pretty trail and nice views, and because I wanted to stay in shape for an eventual return to the Adirondacks.  

This time I hiked by myself, the safest choice given the spread of the virus. I saw no one on my way up the mountain, but, on my descent, I passed a few small groups making their ascent.  I put on my mask and stepped off the trail to let others go by.  Most of the other hikers did the same.


Mountain Ash, July 2020

Stinging Nettles, July 2020

Warm, sultry, and no view, July 2020


By June, now my 4th consecutive month on Windham High Peak, I came up with the idea of repeating this hike every month of the year from March 2020 through to February 2021.  I dubbed this My Windham High Peak Covid Challenge.  I looked forward to watching the seasons change in this particular location. Not only that, the drive from my home was very pleasant as it meandered through beautiful familiar countryside. 

Sue, August 2020

July came and I fought with the weather.  Summer, with its heat and humidity, is not my time of year.  And there were other annoyances. Where spring beauties had lined the path in May, stinging nettles became a plague in July.  I had focused on the presence of ticks but hadn't given nettles a thought when I wore shorts and carefully covered my bare legs with tick spray.  My skin was virgin flesh for the nettles.

The sting of stinging nettles lasts 20 or 30 minutes at the most, in my experience, just long enough to be annoying on a warm day during the hike's ascent and back on the descent.  In addition, the view was completely socked in and I was getting bored.  I decided that I would ask a friend to join me in August, reasoning that two of us driving in two cars and staying socially distant would be safe from the virus and not too environmentally negligent.

My favorite hiking companion, daughter Meredith, September 2020


South-facing view of Blackhead Range, September 2020

I delayed my August hike long enough to find a cool day.  Barely squeaking the trip in, one of my ADK friends, Sue, joined me on the 31st.  Sharing the adventure felt great. To top off the day, as we descended, we saw two other ADK friends heading up. We put our masks on and stopped for a short visit.  


Deb, October 2020

Looking north, mixed autumn color, October 2020


Windham High Peak boasts three summit overlooks.  The south-facing view faces the Blackhead Range of the Northern Catskills.  Another rocky outcropping offers a north-facing scene across hills and a valley of farms and small towns to the Adirondacks in the distance.  Finally, continuing on the summit trail and after a slight descent, the Hudson Valley and Empire State Plaza in downtown Albany are visible on a clear day to the east.  Any of these is a perfect location for a lunch stop.


Trisha, November 2020


My daughter, Meredith, came up from New Jersey for my September hike.  At the mountain summit, her Garman Watch told us that we had hiked the equivalent of 81 flights of stairs!

In October, my friend, Deb, displayed the resilience of the lifelong athlete that she is by hiking with me not long after her meniscus surgery.  Trisha, one of the women with whom I camp in the Adirondacks, joined me in November.  Karen ended 2020 with me in December and brought Dove chocolates to share...just to keep us going, of course! Having someone with me was fun and just the change I needed.


Karen, December 2020

Other friends asked if they could accompany me as I began to close in on my year-long challenge, but the virus raged into a double-digit infection rate. I chose to hike alone in January. I basked in the quiet and solitude of winter, saw only three other hikers, and felt far away from the stress and anxiety of life in the valley.

I was thrilled to see a distant cloud inversion or "undercast."  Although many people I knew had witnessed far more dramatic undercasts this season while hiking in the Adirondacks and in New Hampshire's White Mountains, I felt fortunate to see one just before the clouds rose and covered the distant mountains. 


Beautiful snow, southern view, January 2021

The "bones" of the terrain, January 2021

Cloud inversion or undercast, January 2021

I was excited to complete my "challenge" in February!  Even better, Windham had had 25 inches of new snow just the previous week and intermittent lesser storms in the ensuing days.  Linda, my friend of more than 40 years, joined me for this very snowy snowshoe outing.

With so much snow, Linda and I were glad to find that other hikers had broken the trail and made a nice track in recent days. Additional powder snow fell gently during our entire ascent, adding a fluffy coating to already perfect conditions. While Linda and I both agreed that snowshoeing is harder for us than hiking on a dirt path, we were grateful for the reprieve from dodging roots and rocks that the depth of the snow provided.


A deep and nicely broken snowshoe trail, February 2021


Linda, February 2021


We were taken with the pristine beauty and silence of deep winter.  Boulders appeared nearly submerged by feet of snow, trail markers seemed low on their posts, white mounds blanketed stone walls, and mountain views shown through the leafless forest.  What a fabulous ending to my year spent hiking this Catskill peak.

Light snow to the south in this iconic view, February 2021

What have I learned during My Windham High Peak Covid Challenge?  I loved knowing that I had a pre-determined place to hike, whenever I could get there at some point each month.  I learned that, even if I began the hike with a sluggish pace, I always became energized in the process. While I like to hike alone, I discovered that my own company gets tiresome.  I became familiar with specific trees, rocks, roots underfoot and the ever-changing trail from its beginning crossing the Batavia Kill to the summit plateau. Windham High Peak now holds a special place in my hiking history.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Local Hikes and More

Some of you know that I don't look forward to July, with its notorious heat and humidity.  Although June and August can also have unbearable days, it's refreshing to look back at my ongoing series of local hikes in May and June's cooler temperatures.

(The Sentinels, rocks at Dyken Pond)
(a board walk covers a swampy area of trail)

In early May, Bill and I headed to Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center in the Rensselaer Plateau.  Trails spread out from a small parking lot in every direction, covering over thirty-three ecological communities ranging from beech-maple forests to spruce-fir swamps, beaver ponds and vernal pools.  I especially like the large rocks here, which remind me of the Druid gardens at Blarney Castle in Ireland.

(Dyken Pond)

At the end of our walk, we sat by Dyken Pond and enjoyed a snack. 

I was shocked to discover that the sole of one of my hiking boots had become detached from the shoe!  I was glad that I hadn't tripped on the flapping sole. Although these are my "local hikes" boots, easily 10 years old and having been retired from more strenuous hiking, I would not consider replacing them during this COVID period when mail order was the only shopping option. 


On a mid-week day, my friend, Karen, and I decided to explore the Keleher Preserve, a Mohawk-Hudson Land Conservancy property close to home in the Helderberg Escarpment. 

Between the gift of land in 2010 and a later purchase, the Keleher Preserve comprises 447 acres, but so far has only 4 miles of trails. I am so appreciative when people donate their large rural properties for ongoing preservation.  This land in Voorheesville could easily have become a housing development.

I was ready for our hike, having duct-taped my boot back together.

(Great signage at the Keleher Preserve)
(Making do)
Along ravines and through hard wood forests, the well-marked paths lead to a bench and overlook across the valley to the northeast -- a perfect spot to stop for a snack.  Early spring-green leaves just began to lend a chartreuse haze across the forest as sun filtering through the trees created a picturesque dappled floor.

On our next available weekend, Bill and I drove over to the Boulders in Dalton, Massachusetts, just beyond "hiking local," but still not far from our Albany home.  When a friend, who is on the Berkshire Natural Resources Council Board (BNRC), highly recommended visiting The Boulders, I put it on my list. There are 6 miles of trails on its 645 acres. This extensive preserve belonged to Crane and Company, makers of paper used for U.S. currency.  In 2015, the Crane family donated the land to BNRC. 

(the Reservoir at The Boulders)

(Rocks and view at the Boulders)

A woodland trail took us by a small pond, vernal pools, and damp woods where marsh marigolds bloomed. Again, a modest view could be seen through the trees.  At first, I thought these trails would lend themselves perfectly to cross-country skiing, but then decided that snowshoes would be safer on some of the narrow curving down-hill runs. Regardless, winter would be a good time to return.

(The Boulders)

Bill and I began June with a perennial favorite, the Huyck Preserve in Rensselaerville.  The Huyck Preserve has lower trails climbing from the parking area along the impressive Tenmile Creek Rensselaerville Waterfall and around Lake Myosotis.  The newer upper trails, that opened to the public in 2012, edge creeks, rise over hills and criss-cross the stonewalls of long ago farms.

(Lake Myosotis)

I regularly lead Adirondack Mountain Club trips to the Huyck Preserve in any season, and have visited many times with friends and family.  With over 2000 acres and more than 12 miles of trails, this preserve also includes one of the oldest biological research stations in the United States and has supported research continuously since 1938.

(Narrow bridge across a wet area)

(Rensselaerville Falls)

My friend, Karen, and I drove into Rensselaer County to explore the Kinderhook Preserve on a sultry morning.  Neither of us had previously been to this small 85-acre Rensselaer Land Trust property with its five miles of trails.  A half-mile trail goes along the edge of Kinderhook Creek where sandy beaches looked inviting for a swim.  Other trails border rock cliffs and lead up and down ravines, adding a lot of interest to this outing. Karen and I hiked the perimeter trail first and then the interior trails.

Again, I considered whether the wide trails would be a good XC ski spot, until we reached the steep ravines.  Definitely, snowshoes only!  One section even had a climbing rope to aid hikers. 

(Kinderhook Creek)

(Karen pulls herself along with the climbing rope)

The Kinderhook Creek Preserve is built around the concept of a “working forest” which includes ecological and environmental protection, outdoor recreation, timber production using sustainable forest management practices, wildlife habitat enhancement, and nature study.

(Steep terrain abounds at the Kinderhook Preserve)

By mid-June, lush green was everywhere.  My friend, Linda, and I went back to a long-time favorite, Thacher Park.  It is notable in this blog post that friends became a larger part of my local hiking experience than previously, although Bill and I were still getting out on weekends as well. 

On this day, Linda and I drove separately, not yet comfortable with sharing a car ride.  We hiked at a social distance and had our masks at the ready, should we meet other hikers.  Incidence of COVID-19 had become extremely low in our Capital Region, but we still took precautions.

(View to Albany from High Point at Thacher North)

We chose to hike the Fred Schroeder Memorial Trail in Thacher North.  Besides leaving a huge volunteer hiking legacy introducing hundreds of underprivileged children to the Adirondacks, Fred Schroeder led weekly hikes for the Adirondack Mountain Club for 30 years. This trail, near his home, was designated a memorial to him after his death in 2010.

Besides its testament to the accomplishments of Fred Schroeder, the trail includes the end point of the Long Path, a 357-mile long-distance hiking trail beginning at the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, New Jersey and ending here. 

(The Helderberg Escarpment from High Point)

Linda and I found a shady spot at High Point Cliff for a snack and visit, facing spectacular views.  And to top it off, I had new boots!  Thanks to LLBean re-opening, I was able to try boots on and found these that should be perfect for half-day local outings.  My old taped-together boots went in the trash.

(LLBean Alpine Hiking Boots)

While all these local preserves and parks are wonderful, I longed for the Adirondacks with its wild character and majestic views.  I was open to going to any part of the Adirondack Park -- the Lake George area, the high peaks, Indian Lake, anywhere!  But the hostels I liked were closed and campgrounds were not open for new reservations or walk-ins.

(Evening view with Heart Lake from Mt. Jo)

As Outings Chair for the Albany Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK), I receive regular updates from the Club's main office.  When an email arrived stating that the ADK-owned campground at Heart Lake, nestled in the high peaks would open at 50% capacity, I knew I had found my destination!  With just half of the 31 tent sites open for use, this campground fit my bill. 

(Evening and a swim at Heart Lake)

What a treat to go to a place I loved for a short camping and hiking trip.  Taking my "serious hikes" boots along for this trip, I rationalized that it was okay to break away from the Department of Environmental Conservation recommendations to "stay home" and "hike local" just this once.

(Asolo hiking boots, some of the most comfortable I have ever owned)

A chilly June spell was just beginning to change into a heat wave, but I squeezed in an evening hike up Mount Jo and a day hike to Phelps Mountain, with a swim after each.  Camping at Heart Lake was a wonderful break in this COVID period. And there would be more beautiful local places to explore close to home upon my return -- once the heat wave passed. 

(Phelps Mtn. is #32 of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks.  For my third time hiking this mountain, I was rewarded with the best views I had ever had there.)