There’s a story I’ve heard many times, about a couple of my directionally-challenged aunts, getting lost on their way from NYC to visit my family in central NY, many years ago.

They were missing in action for many hours, and finally, late at night, they called from a payphone.  “We must be near Waterloo, because we passed Watertown quite a while ago.  It’s very dark, and there’s nothing but trucks loaded with logs.  The sign says ‘Last U.S. Exit.'”

If you don’t have a map handy, you just have to know, they’d driven north from The City, and neglected to ever turn west, toward my town.  They’d just pressed on, northward, like Admiral Peary, and were calling from the Canadian border.

It was assumed by most, they’d arrived somewhere near the St. Lawrence River, and the province of Ontario.   But I think people underestimate my aunts’ ability to misplace themselves, and it could’ve easily been near Quebec, or even New Brunswick.

If they ever have time, and a platinum gas card, I believe with all my heart, that they could outdo Moses, who only wandered in the desert for forty years, and they’ve been practicing for almost that long now.

The last time I told this, the listener wasn’t surprised about them getting lost, since they’re related to me, but they asked about the log trucks.   And they were surprised when I mentioned logging in New York.

I don’t think these photos are all that special, but they’ll serve as illustrations.  Folks who’ve only visited NYC, might not realize, that New York still has lumbering.  While not on the scale of the Pacific Northwest or southern states, NY is on the top ten list for producing hardwoods, especially maple, oak, and cherry.




The pine trees in the photos are something different.  Government foresters planted them to help stabilize worn-out farmland.  That was years ago, and I think all of the pine plantations around the Fingers Lakes, state or federal, are now mature, or a bit past it.

As they were harvested, some were being replaced with red oaks, but mostly it appears to be left to windblown chance – – so it’ll probably end up with the usual suspects – – beech, maple, oak, hickory.  Sometimes you’ll see cottonwoods and dense thickets of poplars springing up – – not very valuable for lumber, but good cover for grouse, quail & woodcock.

This region doesn’t have the large-scale chip- and pulpwood farming that goes on in the south, with it’s industrialized pine monoculture.  The white pines are in decline around here, between logging, windstorms, a destructive fungus that attacks the needles, blister rust, and pine bark beetles & weevils.



I guess the plantations are “fake forests,” of course, but I have to confess, that walking in these groves, through the orderly rows of pencil-straight trees, has always appealed to me.  They’re not that common around here, so it makes a nice change.  Almost zero undergrowth, so you can march along inspecting ranks, not worrying about ticks or thorns, breathing that great pine-y air, with chipmunks skittering across your path.

Especially when it’s frosty outside, it’s great to take the path less traveled by, but it’s also nice to not get bent in the undergrowth, always having to watch for trail blazes, and just let your mind wander, knowing you’re on the straight and narrow.







Finger Lakes, FLX, hiking, Nature, NY, Uncategorized, Upstate New York

Walks Around The Finger Lakes. February, Schuyler County.


29 thoughts on “Walks Around The Finger Lakes. February, Schuyler County.

  1. Perhaps your aunts did travel generally northwest from NYC through the Catskills to Binghamton and on up I-81, but then missed the turnoff at Lisle or Cortland and kept north through Syracuse and Watertown to someplace along the St. Lawrence across from Ontario.

    I didn’t realize that New York is in the top 10 for hardwoods. I guess we can thank the Adirondacks for that.

    • Yes, and the Finger Lakes, and Southern Tier. There’s logging outfits that knock on the doors of landowners, and offer cash for cutting hardwoods, especially large black walnut and cherry trees.

  2. Well, Google maps wasn’t available then, but they could have used it trustingly and then, like a guy in Europe some time ago, ended up on a farmyard dung heap! 😀

    • Ha! You do hear stories like that! I had an old TomTom that kept trying to get me to turn off the interstate and go down an embankment, and once directed me to turn onto “Orchard Lane” which turned out to be exactly that — a dirt path through some farmer’s orchard”. 😀

      • There was a really funny commercial here once, for an insurance which had the motto “life comes on you fast”.
        There, you hear the navigation system telling the driver to turn right. Which he does and he crashes through a store window. And then the navigation system continues, “in 100 feet”.
        I LOVE that commercial.

    • Hi Neil – I think basically everybody is allergic to poison ivy, The people who think they are immune, just haven’t gotten it yet. and I think you get more sensitive, the more times you get it. So I watch out for it 100% of the time. When there’s no clearings, and the pine forest is intact, there is just about zero undergrowth including poison ivy.

  3. Our beautiful pine forests have been devastated by the pine beetle. Hundreds of square miles are now being replanted by other tree species more resistant to this pest. Indeed, I was surprised to read that you have a forest industry in the state of NY, Robert.

    • Thank you for your comment, Peter. Those beetles have caused a tremendous amount of damage, and there are now pests attacking the hemlocks and ash trees (The ash trees are a significant percentage of the woods around here, too. But I read on a Forest Service site, that 62% of the state is covered with trees. Some of that is in the form of small wood lots, parks, preserves, etc and along streets. But there are small-scale tree cutting operations all over the place.

  4. melissabluefineart says:

    You have expressed so well what it feels like to walk in these groves. I always feel a little conflicted because they are artificial, but then I shrug that off and enjoy.

      • melissabluefineart says:

        Oh, yes I have heard that. We’re thinking of moving to North Carolina in a couple of years, and so I did some research into the health of the forest there. Evidently everyone looks at their trees as pots of gold they are planning to harvest. I was sad to read that. If I’m able to buy land with trees on it, I plan to let my little piece of forest mature. But I’ll definitely sneak in a few pines!

  5. George says:

    Wonderfully atmospheric photos and evocative words. There is certainly a strange beauty in the uniformity of the plantations—a subtle tension between the natural world and its reordering by the hand of man.

    They look like the setting for scene in a Cold War spy thriller.

    • Thank you, George, I think your comment is more interesting than the post. The army used to store its nuclear artillery shells in a depot about ten miles south of my hometown, and roughly fifteen miles north of this pine forest, so perhaps one of the local writers could whip up a spy story! Or at least, Rocky & Bullwinkle could chase Boris & Natasha through the woods.
      Of course, the nuclear warheads were a closely held secret, known only to…well, everybody in the county, I guess.
      You’ve mentioned visiting the U.S., and if you’ve seen some of the mile-wide cornfields, you get the same kind of hypnotic effect as the pine woods, if you run along the rows, the cornstalks are twice as high as a man, so all you see are stalks & leaves.

  6. George says:

    I have seen some of the mile-wide cornfields in Pennsylvania, and I know exactly what you mean. Fascinating to hear about the nuclear artillery shells. Perhaps you’ve set yourself a challenge with the spy story!

  7. I suppose one could argue a walk in the woods is a walk in the woods, regardless of how it got its start. But then I don’t know that I’ve walked in forests where the replanting was in straight lines. Guess you just need to close your eyes, open your nose, and wander. At least until your nose wanders into a tree.

  8. Darts and Letters says:

    My sister has a grove of white pine behind her house that’s planted in just the way you describe (and like the pines you’ve pictured here) and I’ve walked through it many times on my way down to the river and I completely understand the appeal of that which you describe, monoculture or not. This looks like a path to infinity…..or maybe to an encounter with a sinister medieval horserider. Last autumn I read a rather dry (like wood pulp) nineteenth century history of lumbertowns in the lower peninsula of Michigan and it was nonetheless by turns fascinating to learn in certain detail how some of the most successful logging enterprises were the already-experienced New York concerns which sought to capitalize on the frontier of White Pine across Michigan. One of my grandfathers replanted trees for the CCC a lot later in the upper peninsula. Once upon a time I found a picture from a CCC camp featuring hundreds of shivering tree planters and I thought I might find him but the disappointingly blurry reprint made that impossible. The average person in the Pacific Northwest probably has no clue with regard to the difference between old growth, second and third generation forests except maybe for the most obvious commercial plantations. We’re lucky enough to have some old growth forest right in the city (one place is inside of a park named for Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State, one of many parks nationwide named for Seward or so from what I’ve gathered) and those giants are mind-boggling. There’s plenty of woods close to us with old growth stumps (with those telltale springboard notches) that are the size of small houses, to remind us of the genetic code. At any rate, I liked the little story about your aunts, hahaha! Been there done that, so I’m laughing with them and not at them.

    • Thanks, Jason, I’m laughing with them, too, I’m just as bad. Although seeing the signs for Canada has always helped.
      That’s pretty cool there’s old growth inside city limits!! I know who that Sec. of State was! I worked two summers at Seward’s house museum in Auburn, NY, he was a very interesting character.

  9. What a story! I can picture it – in the dark, missing the exit, and not knowing you’re in the Adirondacks because you’re just sailing along the thruway. Or who knows where they were, maybe they passed an exit sign for a road to Watertown but not really Watertown….anyone who’s lived in the city for a long time – well, it’s a whole other way of getting places, and it can be challenging if you have to navigate the wilds of upstate – even past the outer boroughs! – without cabs, buses and subways tracing a grid. 😉 I didn’t know about vacant farmland being planted with pine, but I like the idea of “real” forests making their way back onto that land. And how would your aunts fare, meandering through one of those pine forests? 🙂
    The picture you paint of wandering in them is vivid…when I went to Girl Scout camp outside of Syracuse they sent us to clear branches out of a larch forest. It was like you describe, and it was beautiful.

    • Hi Lynn – Thanks, that larch forest sounds beautiful. I’ve only been to the Adirondacks a couple of times, believe it or not, and so haven’t seen larches that much, but I like the fuzzy-looking foliage. There’s isolated patches of larches around the Finger Lakes, I don’t know if they’re native tamaracks or planted. I just looked them up, and an article said there’s 50k acres of plantations in the NE, hybrid Japanese-European larch! I had no idea, I hadn’t even known they’re used for lumber.
      I’m glad you liked the story – my mom added, that when Dad picked up the phone, thought a few seconds, and knew just what to do. He handed the phone to her, and said, “It’s your sister.” 🙂

      • Re the larches – I’m pretty sure the place we worked in was all planted but I didn’t know there were hybrids and all the rest – interesting! The story addendum is pure “Ah, Families, gotta love ’em!” 🙂 Enjoy your week, Robert.

  10. I am not surprised that New York has a lot of logging. People think of New York City the entire state, what with the rest of it called “upstate” no matter east, north, or west. Anyone who’s seen an “I Love NY” commercial has flown across so much wilderness. I work in a furniture store and one of our lines, my favorite actually, was Harden Furniture,a family run company in McConnellsville not far from Syracuse and Oneida Lake, which just closed shop a few years ago. A great family business with land holdings and their own cherry processing plant, drying and selecting all the hardwoods for the cabinets they made.
    I can picture your aunts telling each other “it’s got to be just a little farther” for a few hours. 🙂

    • Thanks, Steve.
      Yeah, I remember reading about Harden closing down, after more than 100 years, and the machinery was shipped to N.C.. Very sad.
      Stickley is still going, outside Syracuse, although some of their less-expensive stuff is actually made in Vietnam.
      A few years ago, I spent a day in Jamestown (east of Erie, PA, but in NY) which used to have a dozen furniture-makers, but the only one left is Bush, which makes the assemble-it-yourself kind that comes in a box. I do see a lot of farm-based workshops out in the boonies, “Amish-made furniture” but haven’t ever gone into one, I should do that next time I visit NY. I don’t think I mentioned black walnut, but I’ve heard that gets a high price, and I know of one farmer who planted a few acres with them, I guess so his grandkids could make some money!

      • I remember Jamestown also although that was a long time ago. There is a Stickley store a few miles from here in CT. Stickley goes way back to the Craftsmen Furniture days at the turn of the last century. Yup, black walnut always commands a good price. We have a few walnut groves nearby.

  11. Here’s a stray thought for you: your mention of those pencil-straight trees reminded me of this post about cedar pencils I recently read. I had no idea that so many woods are used for pencils, or that there are distinct differences among them, or that there’s such a thing as a $10 pencil!

    I have a sense you might have told this story about your aunts, or referenced it before, because it reminded me of our famous family story of the night my directionally challenged mother got lost in a Kansas City rainstorm and ended up at a factory gate in the red light district — far, far from home, in every sense of the word. She was lucky to find a friendly and helpful man in the guard shack who got in touch with my uncle, and things got sorted out.

    I still remember what it was like to fly into Houston for the first time. I’d heard the phrase “piney woods” used for east Texas, but really had no idea how impressive Texas forest were. There’s still a lot of lumbering that takes place, and it’s perfectly usual to come across logging trucks when I’m over there. Loblolly’s common, and some white pine, but the ones I love are the longleaf, which are native remnants of the great pine forests that once covered the entire southeast. There are wonderful efforts being made to preserve the longleaf. Being in one of those forests is like being on a prairie with trees.

    Your first photo reminded me of one of my favorite buildings in Arkansas: the Thorncrown Chapel. I wonder if the forests of Arkansas might have inspired the architecture.

    • Wow, that’s a beautiful chapel! It’s amazingly light, and somehow it does seem to harken back to a gothic church, even though it’s made with all those straight lines. But it does seem like it reflects a forest, too. I really like it.
      At Cornell U’s arboretum, or pinetum I guess is the term, they have different kinds of pine trees, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a loblolly or longleaf. I was in S.C. when I was a kid but pretty young, and I only remember the Spanish moss.

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