An old iron bridge, closed to cars for many years, takes hikers over the Seneca River, to Howland Island, a few miles north of Port Byron, NY.  About halfway between Rochester and Syracuse.



The island is a state “wildlife management” area, 3,500 acres, near the better-known Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, 10,000 acres, run by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Like so many words connected with the federal government, “refuge” is used ironically, since they allow hunting and trapping.

“Wildlife management” seems more honest, with its suggestion of headhunters, cutthroat competition, and getting the ax.  Or maybe, like, letting the animals run things, which seems to be the current political trend.  Howland is hunting land, and not a park, but most of the year, it’s a great place to just walk and bird watch.  The rifle & shotgun “downsizing” season for deer would be the exception, and in late November/early December, you don’t wanna go near the hunting areas.

Waterfowl season, it’s pretty safe, just stay away from the ponds, wear orange, and I always remove the plumes from my Tyrolean hat.

Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)  Which despite its name, turns reddish or coppery in the fall.  Now that I no longer have to mow a lawn, I’ve grown enthusiastic about grasses.

Howland is just barely an island, almost a peninsula most of the year.  The channel on the longest, northwest side is narrow in some places, hardly more than a big ditch, except during the spring floods.  But the river along the south shore is pretty broad and impressive.



The Seneca River begins in Geneva, as the overflow from Seneca Lake, and then wanders more-or-less northeast, picking up water from a number of creeks, and most of the Finger Lakes.  North of Syracuse, it helps to form the Oswego River, which empties into Lake Ontario.  It was a trading route for the Iroquois, and then for the colonial fur trade, and for almost two hundred years, sections have been dredged and “canalized” as part of the Erie Canal system.

So today, you can cast off your boat from, say, Watkins Glen, on the southern end of Seneca Lake (42° N), only thirty miles north of the Pennsylvania line, and sail, by way of canals, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, all the way to the North Atlantic, at Nova Scotia or Newfoundland (49° N).

(Or you could reach the Atlantic by way of the Mohawk River, and then south on the Hudson River to New York City.)

(Or, if it’s a really small, inflatable boat, you could put it in a duffle bag, go to the Trailways station in Elmira, take a bus to Patchogue, then take the ferry out to Fire Island, and row into the Atlantic from the beach.)

(And the buses do have WiFi now, and I’m guessing the St. Lawrence River doesn’t, unless you’re really close to Montréal.)

(If you do choose that St. Lawrence route, remember, when asking for the WiFi password as you float past Montréal or Québec, they pronounce it “le wee fee.”)

(I’m not trying to tell you which is the best route, you know, but if you did take the bus to Patchogue, you could stop by Flo’s Luncheonette, and have waffles, before you get back in the boat.)

(But for heaven’s sake, wait half an hour, after the waffles, before you go onto the ocean.)


a calm backwater along the eastern border of the island


Waffles, yeah.  I have not had waffles since I moved to Milwaukee.  It is getting cold, and time for waffle long johns, and for waffles.  Where was I?


cellphone snap of a heron enjoying lunch

I’ve walked around the island many times, and am often struck by the relative scarcity of game.  I’ve don’t recall ever seeing any grouse, pheasants, or rabbits, or even their tracks.  Despite the hickory trees, even squirrels make themselves scarce.  A few whitetails, groundhogs, and ducks, but there are way more deer, geese, and turkeys in the surrounding farms, than that woods and ponds here.  So maybe word gets around, and the animals actually avoid a designated hunting zone?


A young painted turtle was flipped over, next to a culvert, and looked pretty disgruntled, but it cheered right up once we got it right-side up, and set it on a nice patch of mud


Some acreage is leased for growing soybeans, but no one lives on the island anymore.   Woods, fields, sandy hillocks, ponds and marshes.  Settlers in the early 1800’s spent a lot of time draining the swampy areas, and then in the 1930’s, the Civilian Conservation Corp reversed course, and spent a lot of time creating ponds and marshes, for waterfowl.  The CCC barracks later housed POWs from Rommel’s Afrika Korps, who worked as farm labor ($.80/day), and in a nearby Procini & Rossi pasta factory.  (Apparently, things worked out peaceably – I’ve never read of any escapes, or trouble of any kind.  Although, being German, they insisted on straightening the elbow macaroni.)



On a walk in October, it seemed surprising to find dozens of orange butterflies, fluttering around with the falling leaves, almost like they were trying to blend in.  ¿I think they were Question Mark Butterflies?  (which seem to have a varied appearance, depending on which book or website you’re looking at), but please let me know if that guess is wrong.



The very green frog, is named appropriately – Northern Green Frog.  He blew a lot of money on that camouflage outfit, feeling pretty fly, as frogs said back in the ’90’s, but now he finds he’s no longer blending in, as the leaves and ferns turn brown.  You know the song sung by Kermit on the Muppets, right?  I had to look up the writer, Joe Raposo, and I had no idea it was covered by Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Van Morrison, Shirley Horn, Lena Horne, Diana Ross, Della Reese, Ray Charles, etc.

It’s not that easy bein’ green

Having to spend each day

The color of the leaves

When I think it could be nicer

Bein’ red or yellow or gold…

There is absolutely nothing spectacular about Howland Island. It’s just a pleasant place to stretch your legs. There are generally a couple of people fishing in the river, and on a typical day, when it’s not hunting season, you’ll probably have the place pretty much to yourself.

Looking at that frog reminds me.  Did you know our military now has at least ten types of camouflage, for different situations?  The Navy has a uniform for the desert, which is a bit mystifying, unless your ship was going really, really fast when it hit land.  Or maybe, once in a while, the sailors just like to get as far away from water as they can?  And according to the Washington Post, the Navy wanted to distinguish their uniforms from the Marines’, so their desert pattern is green.

Maybe “sand” was too obvious?  I guess if the Navy guys are green, and sticking out like a sore thumb, they could hunker down, and pretend they’re frogs?  Just abnormally large, Northern Green Frogs, who tragically, have become lost in the desert.  Technically, that kind of camo’s called “mimesis,” trying to look like something else, rather than “crypsis,” avoiding detection.


A discarded snakeskin almost made me jump out of my skin

Well, I had been feeling kinda good about this post, actually staying focused & on track, but now somehow we’ve wandered into a discussion of Muppets and camouflage?  I suddenly thought, wasn’t the inventor of waffle irons named Howland?  That would be a nice coincidence and a good wrap-up.  But I was thinking of Elias Howe, and it was a sewing machine.  But I’m sure some people are aware of another Howland Island, a tiny coral lump somewhere in the Pacific, where Amelia Earhart was headed, when she disappeared, kind of like the thread of this story.  The airstrip there was another New Deal project, done about the same time they were constructing the ponds on our local island.

The Pacific’s Howland Island, now managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, is one of only ten remaining territories still claimed by our country, under the Guano Islands Act of 1856.  That law is still on the books, allowing us, the citizens of the U.S.A., to take possession of any unclaimed islands, as long as they (the islands) have a really big pile of bird excrement.  No kidding.  And on that note, I’m gonna go get some waffles.


Washington Post May 8, 2013  “U.S. Military has 10 Kinds of Camouflage”


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

Walks Around the Finger Lakes. October. Howland Island.








I was lying on the ground, gasping for oxygen after summiting the highest peak in my county, and trying to staunch a nosebleed with a handful of alpaca wool.

I was surrounded by decaying carcasses.



So, good opening, right?

Maybe…dramatized, just a bit.

I wasn’t actually prostrate, for example, but I am prone to exaggeration.

Technically, there was no need for oxygen, no nosebleed, no alpaca wool.

The “carcasses” were just old tree stumps.

Some people are into bicycling or making yarn – – I’m learning to spin alternative facts.



One of our more intimidating trails – up to a 1 and a 1/2% grade!!!  And in places, some really tough weeds.


In Seneca County, NY, the highest elevation soars to … 1640 feet above sea level.  Not too impressive.  An easy stroll up the hill, through woods and pastures.   The neighboring counties top out at 2,000 – 2,200.  You don’t need ropes or mountaineering boots – – the only thing spiked around here, is the apple cider.

I’ve found it’s really hard to hire sherpas, or rent an alpaca, to carry stuff for you, for anything under 20,000 feet, they find it an embarrassment.  Sometimes a kid with an ATV will give you a lift.




Come to think of it, there actually are some alpacas around here.  Upstate New York has over 600,000 dairy cows, but you’ll also run across pastures with sheep, goats, and llamas, and every once in a while, alpacas, bison or ostriches.



But no mountain goats.   It’s just that all summer, I’ve been reading WP stories of mountains.  Rocky Mountains and Alps and Andes and Carpathians, hiking & rock climbing – – and I’ve been wanting to write “summiting,” like the cool, more  adventurous bloggers.  I’m going to post a story about climbing a volcano in Chile, but today, it’s about the decidedly tame, non-volcanic region where I grew up.



This old stump triggered this story – – with a bit of imagination, it resembled a rocky mesa


All summer, I’ve admired pictures of spectacular ranges, peaks, alps, buttes, mesas, and cliffs.  The masses of stone are almost overwhelming.  Evidence of titanic energy and uplift – – lava flows and volcanoes, and the weathered faces of former seabeds, eons of sediment, pushed sky-high by tectonic plate movement.

Everything’s standing tall.  I’ve visited some of the western states, gone to the mountains, and met a lot friendly  folks with positive attitudes.  It’s a forward-thinking, upward-trending kind of place out there, in the West.



Here in the East, in Upstate New York, the landforms are pretty modest.  Like our infrastructure and many of our residents, the topography is half-cracked, old and crumbling.  Once upon a time, the Taconics, on the eastern side of the state, were as tall as the Himalayas.  Eons and a couple of Ice Ages flattened out the hills, and smoothed out the valleys.  Instead of purple mountains majesty, we run more to gullied hillsides covered with cow pastures, and what we call “mountains” in the Finger Lakes, are wooded hummocks really.



About 130 miles east of here, New York does have mountains, but less than half the height of the Rockies.  The Adirondacks top out at 5343 feet, and the Catskills at 4180.


New York’s official motto is “Excelsior” i.e.”Higher,” (didn’t you think that was Colorado?), “Ever Upwards,” but some days, it seems we’re really more about erosion and running downhill – – of land, civility, ethical standards, you name it.

The state has amassed a mountain of debt, over $64 billion, and climbing.  We’re specialists in fits of pique, more than peaks, and slippery slopes.  Our legislators recently voted on the Official State Sport, and chose “Backsliding.”





When you travel from New York City to central New York, where I grew up, it’s all downhill, economically.  NYC is still a Himalaya of financial services, and much of Upstate is an eroded depression of former manufacturing centers.

Every little city around here has stories about “we used to make…”  from shoes to cigars, fire engines to cameras, steel to furniture.  My village was known at one time for its pianos and organs, but its well-made wagons and sleighs were the most famous – I’ve run across them several times in museums around the Northeast.  The company successfully evolved into a maker of car bodies, making various types of “woodies,” until those went out of fashion, and it folded in 1957.



A 1942 GMC “Waterloo Woodie”


All these economic peaks are ancient history, and long gone, along with many skills and well-paying jobs.  The region now looks to “agritourism” to climb back up.




Still…even though good jobs are scarce, the lakes and surrounding hills are beautiful.  The region is ever more popular as a busy tourist destination.  Waterfalls, boating, fishing, wineries, cheese-making, cideries, Amish farms, distilleries.  In my little village, and neighboring Geneva, there are hundreds and hundreds of hotel rooms, and in summer & autumn, they’re often booked solid, and the restaurants are crowded.










So, while we’re waiting for a table…we started with mountains, and then wandered into the local economy…maybe now, a little glass of vodka, and a two-paragraph detour to the Russian Empire.  Not to climb the Urals, but to visit Potemkin villages.

Grigory Potemkin was one of Catherine the Great’s boyfriends, and a pretty interesting guy, who fought wars, built fleets of ships, calmed the Cossacks, etc.  Like Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit,” a one-eyed fat man, that you shouldn’t underestimate.  But sometimes he’s only mentioned for something that probably didn’t happen.

Potemkin governed the Ukraine, and whenever the Empress of Russia came to inspect,  supposedly he’d nip out and have cute little sham villages erected along her route,  staffed with smiling serfs, washed and dressed in embroidered peasant clothing, so Catherine would believe everything in her realm was just peachy.



These pop-up “Potemkin villages” may be kind of a myth, but sometimes, that’s how I think of the Finger Lakes.

Except without the borscht.



Visitors here (to New York, we’re done with Russia now, please keep up) follow the embroidered Chamber of Commerce pamphlets and winery tours, and see a Potemkin village, a flower-strewn facade of summer cottages, lakeside music fests, rose gardens, boat tours, balloon flights, microbreweries, and one hundred wineries.  The Amish in their horse-drawn carts add a touch of quaintness.





And just o’er the hills and not far away from the wineries and waterfront properties, are ramshackle trailer parks and rundown farmhouses, heated with woodstoves, not because that’s so cozy and nostalgic, but because they cannot afford the heating oil.  Pillars fall from dilapidated Greek Revivals, and big brick Victorians go topless, as their roofs cave in.



The local farm co-op went bust and closed all its stores in 1999, and half the shops in the rural hamlets are boarded up.  Deer season’s a big deal, not as a sporting proposition, but to stock up the chest freezers for winter.




Politicians and state officials sometimes venture here, to look down upon the hayseeds, chew the scenery, and talk endlessly of natural beauty, tourism, agri-tourism.

Eliot Spitzer once left his Manhattan penthouse and drove by, while campaigning for governor.  (And lasted for well over a year in office!  before resigning after a prostitution scandal.)  He compared the area’s economy to Appalachia, apparently not recognizing, that the hilly Southern Tier region (bordering Pennsylvania) actually is part of Appalachia.



More about hills.  The hillocks and ridges to my north, closer to Lake Ontario, are mostly glacial deposits called moraines, eskers, and drumlins – – piles of sand, clay, boulders, and gravel, dumped by melting glaciers when the Ice Age melted away.



And we’re still getting dumped upon.

The highest point near my hometown?  It’s a series of terraced barrows, where we gather and store up earthly wealth.

In other words, a giant garbage dump, hundreds of feet tall.  Now that the Ice Age is done leaving glacial till, a Canadian company is ringing the till, trucking in trash from NYC.



Waterloo is between the northern ends of Seneca and Cayuga, the largest of the Finger Lakes, almost forty miles long, and in places, 400-600 feet deep.

The only lakefront property, however, in the town, is occupied by a state park.  In this county, mostly agricultural, and with a substantial Amish population, per capita income is less than $27,000.  So, since before I was born, Seneca Falls, the village immediately to our east, has accepted millions of dollars to host “Seneca Meadows.”

This sounds lovely, but it’s actually a landfill, covering hundreds of acres between the villages.  Six thousand tons of garbage are trucked in daily, almost all of it from downstate, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.  Millions of tires are “recycled” by grinding them up, and using them as a substitute for gravel in drainage beds.   So much methane is produced, that it’s tapped to supply an electric-generating plant.   A mile of plastic piping is strung between tall poles, spritzing a flowery deodorant 24/7.



It’s a well-run operation.  The trucks and earth-movers are precisely choreographed.  Technically, we’re informed, these man-made hills are called “dry entombment.”  And sure, isn’t that cheerful-sounding.  The operator reaps tens of millions of dollars, every year.  A lot of locals aren’t excited about the new landscape, hundreds of feet tall, but there’s only 19,044 active, registered voters in this county, and NYC has 4,420,737, so guess which direction the local politicos and state authorities flop.

So pile it high.







I guess when you don’t have mountains, we have an urge to create them.  Barrows, cairns, pyramids, we like to pile stuff up.  Sometimes around here it’s piles of rocks, raked out of the fields by generations of farmers.  Sometimes a heap of rusting harrows, seed drills, broken stanchions, and old cars.  Defunct breeds gravitate to the hamlets and small farms – – Mercury Sables, Pontiac Sunbirds, and brontosaurus-sized Oldsmobiles – – following hereditary paths laid down by dinosaurs, woolly mammoths, AMC Eagles and Pacers.

The old cars migrate up into the hills to die and return to the earth, mostly rusting away in ravines and farmers’ side yards.



Hiking around our little hills and patches of woods, it’s sometimes hard not to envy those cool state-of-the-art Westerners, cruising in their Land Cruisers, trekking with nano-tech jackets, mirrored Oakleys, freeze-dried goji berries, GoPros streaming adventures in the huge wilderness areas and high peaks, all drama and dramatic vistas amid giant spruce and firs.



Meanwhile, back in the unexciting Upstate boondocks…I find there’s always something interesting in these woods and creeks, and there’s a sort of charm in the quiet green valleys around here.  And no choking forest fires!


Part of the new economy. Microbreweries are popping up everywhere around here.  Hops (used as a preservative and flavoring in beer) have been grown in NY since the early 1600’s, and Upstate dominated the market in the 1800’s. The large-scale production is now in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, but small-scale growers are beginning to be a familiar sight.


Let’s go back up to the highest part of my county.

I’ve walked many times along the Hector Backbone, the ridge running between the longest of the Finger Lakes, Cayuga and Seneca.  Part of the ridge is within the Finger Lakes Forest – a mixture of pastures, 2nd-growth woods, and pine or oak plantations,  16,000 acres managed by the USDA.  The remnants of the original hemlock woods, clinging to the ravines, are beautiful, but the pine plantations aren’t looking that great, chewed up by beetles and wind storms.  The foresters are now planting red oaks instead.

There used to be a hundred small farms along here.  A lot of the little hill farms were already eroded, marginal, or abandoned, before the Depression finished them off.  On your walk, if you see a half-dozen ancient sugar maples in a row, you’ll inevitably find an old stone foundation nearby.  The houses and barns are long-gone, but even after eighty years or more, I’m still tripping over rusty old buckets and scraps of iron and wire, hidden under the leaves and humus.  Stone walls, painstakingly stacked by immigrants and Civil War vets, that used to define fields and pastures, still run straight as an arrow through the forests.



I started writing this at the height of summer, and now it’s fall.

Like most of my high school classmates, I’ve found a job out-of-state, and moved away.



And believe it or not, I’m gonna miss this place.



















Autumn, Finger Lakes, FLX, History, Nature, NY, Uncategorized, Upstate New York, Waterloo

Walks Around The Finger Lakes. Fall of 2018

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

I never tire of Goldenrod. Walks Around The Finger Lakes. September.


When something is totally ubiquitous, after a while, you tend not to really see it.

I thought that all my socks had vanished, but was actually seeing them every day.  My mind saw them as part of the carpet pattern, and they were re-discovered, when I tried to vacuum.

Around here, soybeans are everywhere, a sea of dull green, and I instinctively turn my eyes away, before the monotony swamps my brain.  Likewise, by September, I start to turn a blind eye to the ceaseless tide of hogweed, floral boardshorts, and political corruption.  All these things were once thought to cause irritability and watery eyes, but it turns out, it’s the ragweed.

But…goldenrod, that’s different, we notice it.  A commonplace weed, it’s actually beautiful, and we’re glad to see brightening up every nook and cranny.

It likes old farms in particular, and fallow fields are a sea of yellow this month.

I’d definitely consider it for our state flower, instead of the rose.  Several states have already adopted it, but it seems a perfect emblem for New Yorkers – goldenrod ain’t subtle, but it’s strong, reliable, cheerful, and suffers from gall.

Several types of parasitic pests lay eggs in it’s stem, causing a round swelling,  but the goldenrod is tough, keeps growing, and just shrugs off the irritants.

Sure, it’s kinda galling, nobody likes a freeloader, but inna couple a weeks, a parasitic wasp’s gonna bore in, and lay eggs on the larvae, so the parasite’s got its own parasites, and the laugh’s on them.  Like the poet said:

      Big fleas have little fleas

     Upon their backs to bite ’em;

     And little fleas have lesser fleas

     And so, ad infinitum.   

(Jonathan Swift, by way of Ogden Nash, thanks Steve for the attribution)



I think I’m posting pictures of Rough-stemmed (why are plant people so judgmental, it’s stem is fine!), but it might be Tall, and there’s also Dwarf, Canada, Dixie, Wand-like, Zigzag, Downy Ragged, and many many more, at least 130 in the U.S..  So there’s a great number of varieties, of course, and I’m no expert.

Even with things you enjoy, it can be hard to spend time with experts, when you lack their expertise, or don’t share their enthusiasms.

Botany, quantum physics, Seinfeld trivia, Pez dispensers, motorheads souping up vintage V-8’s or Straight 8’s, whatever, I don’t know about any of this stuff.  Movie buffs want to discuss Harry Dean Stanton’s uncredited appearance in a ’59 Disney TV show.  Jazz fiends whisper (smoking Gauloises in cellar clubs will do that to you) about a legendary late-night set, pressed in Bucharest on shellac, only 11 copies, with Gene Krupa getting wasted and banging on a steam radiator.  It’s all Greek to me, or as a Greek would say, Αυτά μου φαίνονται κινέζικα.



And likewise, hiking with people who majored in Vegetation & Herbage- you tend to feel a bit left out, if you’ve never studied Horticulture, or Advanced Shrubby Stuff.  I invested in “The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers”  but haven’t made much progress yet (although, delighted to find a plant called “Herb Robert”!  Great! ) but got distracted by Sweet Cecily, scared by Spreading Dogbane, and had to take a break after Goat’s Rue.  A sad goat is just upsetting.

But listen, when it’s Upstate Plants, I can help other non-experts who want to join in the conversation.

Have you ever seen the old SNL skit from the ’70’s, with Dan Akroyd, Gilda Radnor, and Chevy Chase, doing a commercial for “New Shimmer” – – a non-dairy dessert topping and floor wax, all in one?  Well, almost every plant in Upstate NY is a combo-product like that!  If you want to join in these vegetative conversations, you just throw out “Didn’t the native Americans make that into a tea?” and “Didn’t early settlers use that as a laxative/dye for clothing?”

You’ll be right 99% of the time.  Pretty much anything growing around here, you can stew it up, have a cup of bracing tea, rinse your hair, dye your socks, cure a kidney ailment, uplift & improve a testy or laggard disposition, and then celebrate it all with a really bang-up purgative.

Each and every wiry, raspy, deep-rooted weed I’ve ever yanked out of a pea patch can be rendered into a poultice, tea, tisane, tincture, or infusion that’s Certifiably Beneficent for Child, Beast, and Registered Holstein.  Or else quite toxic.  That’s why you go and consult an expert.



But generally, when we’re looking at wildflowers, the subject of car tires doesn’t come up.

And so, I learned something recently – – Thomas Edison was cultivating goldenrod plants, to produce rubber.  He tested 17,000 exotic plants, and then found the most promising was in his backyard – goldenrod.  He grew a variety about ten feet tall, that produced 12% latex.  When his pal, Henry Ford, presented him with a Model T, it was running on goldenrod tires.


Edison’s Model T

“Natural” rubber can be made from a number of plants, including dandelions, and my personal favorite, gutta-percha, a tree grown in Malaysia.  I’ve constantly run into gutta-percha in  histories and old stories – –  electrical insulation, golf balls, buttons, and of course, “mourning jewelry,” for when Victorians wanted something dressy, but suitably depressing and creepy-looking.  The walking stick used in the nearly-fatal attack on Senator Charles Sumner, in 1856, was made of gutta-percha, and snapped, saving Sumner’s life.

The goldenrod rubber process didn’t really take off, but the research was revived during WWII, when our supply of natural rubber from SE Asia was cut off.

Wikipedia indicates goldenrod rubber is “excessively tacky,” but extreme tackiness is very much in vogue, so perhaps its time has finally come.

Ok, back to my plant studies.  Tonight’s episode:  Saga of the Silverleaf Scurfpea.   Hope everyone has a great week.

P.S.  I forgot to mention, this was also one of my favorite crayon colors, when I was a kid.  I looked it up on the Crayola site, and found Goldenrod Yellow has been in the lineup since 1957… and then ran into car tires again.  Crayolas were created by the Peekskill Chemical Co., which originally made paint, lampblack, printing ink, shoe polish.  In the early days of automobiles, tires were white, but Peekskill discovered that adding their carbon black to rubber, made tires last ten times longer.  I remember thinking I should mention this, but I’m not sure why.



I once had a professor, who was fond of criticizing uninspired, half-hearted student efforts as “pedestrian,” in the sense of humdrum and unimaginative.

That’s actually the original meaning of the word, back in the days of the Roman Empire, where I think the professor lived his happiest days.  Dull and drab.  Just your basic wage-earning proletarians, plodding along, rather than the patricians and equestrians, racing on horseback to the Colosseum or an uptown bacchanalia.

In Boston, my recent home, I learned that “pedestrian” is also synonymous with “victim,” in the sense of someone mad enough to venture out on foot, among the city’s psychopathic drivers.  Stop signs mean nothing to these people, sidewalks do not curb them, you cannot claim sanctuary, you’re always fair game.

To be on foot in Boston is simply asking for it.  Like the poor schmoes with walk-on roles in Ben Hur, getting shoved in front of a chariot race, or tipped into the lion’s den.  On foot in Boston traffic, you’re just dipped in gravy and dropped into a cage of weasels.

So walking is not the relaxing pastime it used to be.  Sometimes in the parks around Upstate NY, we’ll be the only ones walking – –  jumping off the path as off-road bicyclists race past, with helmets and carbon fiber chariots.  OK, to each their own.  They’re having fun, non-motorized, so happy to see them enjoying the outdoors.  We look for trails that are too narrow and strewn with fallen tree trunks for bikers, and continue on our plebian way.

And the stretch of woods we walked through, here at summer’s close, was pretty “pedestrian,” – – just middling-size maples, average ash, basic beeches, a handful of hemlocks, hummocky swamps with ferns beginning to turn brown.




But when we took a break and sat down, there were wonderful miniature landscapes of moss and fungi.

It was getting toward sundown and the tiny mushrooms seemed to glow.





Well, speaking as a groundling, worm’s-eye views are sometimes pretty neat!




Although, I guess technically, these are more bird’s-eye views.

I mean, if the bird was walking, not flying.



And we’re not talking ostrich or heron, maybe about grouse-height.

Next week, we’ll address “perambulate.”  Class is dismissed.







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

Walks Around the Finger Lakes. Late August, Early Evening, Finger Lakes Forest



The Black Diamond Trail is for walkers and bikers in the Finger Lakes, near Cayuga Lake.  It’s a new railroad bed conversion, running eight miles between Cass Park in Ithaca, NY and Taughannock Falls Park, in Trumansburg.  Eventually it will continue south to Treman Park, another eight miles or so.

The trail’s name refers to coal – – the north-south railroads in the Finger Lakes generally ran coal from Pennsylvania, to ships on Lake Ontario, and thence to sooty places around the world.  This particular route of the Lehigh Valley RR also had a luxurious “Black Diamond” passenger service from NYC to Ithaca, and then on to Niagara Falls.







I’ve sometimes been, well, not entirely complimentary about sumacs. In autumn, they’re quite often looking like the tattered and hungover remnants of a Mardi Gras parade. But they’re unfailingly colorful in the fall, and can look pretty darn elegant in summertime, too.



The south (Ithaca) end of the trail is a bit dull.  Some tiny rivulet-size waterfalls, blackberries, raspberries, Joe Pye Weed, and sumac alongside.  A powerline is overhead for a mile, and the cars on Route 89 are visible through the trees.

Serious bikers streak past, unsmiling, bug-eyed goggles, spandex and sinew, their tee-shirts advertising an obscure microbrewery in Rochester.  The beers and ales are a bit too hopped-up, and the cyclists too – – pretty much oblivious to the waterfalls, wildflowers and views of Cayuga Lake.





The aged hippies from Trumansburg glide by at a more sedate pace, on recumbent bikes or ancient Schwinns, “Uncle John’s Band” and “Jack Straw” audible from their headphones.  They wave, stop to look at the little streams, comb a few bugs out of their gray beards, and offer you a sip of homemade kombucha.  They’re nice, but I don’t drink, afraid I might wake up under a tree, like Rip Van Winkle, a few decades in the future, a rusty  peace medallion around my neck, wearing mossy old bellbottoms, and “California Dreamin” running through my head.









A mile or so north of Ithaca, the trail becomes nicer.  Most of the pastel-jumpsuit-joggers turn back toward the city.  The powerline decides to head west, and it’s just trees overhead.  The trail moves farther and farther from the highway.  An unmarked but well-beaten footpath goes up the hill, alongside a nice stream with lots of little falls.





After a while, as we go up the hill, a sound like passing trains or traffic starts coming through the trees.  Past an old picnic area with stone tables, and we’ve come out behind the county hospital.  Huge air conditioners are making the rushing sound.





Going back down the hill toward the rail-trail, a side trail is covered with matchstick-sized fungus.  Tiny but creepy.








They’re unmoving, but we walk around them, just in case.












Finger Lakes, FLX, Ithaca, Nature, NY, Railroads, Uncategorized, Upstate New York

Walks Around The Finger Lakes. August. Matchstick Army on the Black Diamond Trail



In a state chockablock with wonderful parks, Fillmore Glen is one of the best. It’s fairly small, under a thousand acres – basically a cool, shady little gorge, with a series of waterfalls and miniature bridges. Millard Fillmore, our 13th President, was born near here, and there’s a replica of his log cabin birthplace. He grew up dirt poor, son of a tenant farmer, and the park was constructed by other poor folks, in the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. They did an amazing job – picnic pavilions and a lot of the stonework retaining walls, etc. have survived from the 1930’s, despite a number of floods over the years.













The woods reflected in a pond. It was very still, but there are small ripples throughout the picture, if you look closely.  Last year, they gave a Nobel to some scientists who were able to detect infinitesimal ripples – apparently just good vibrations are surfing through the whole darn universe all the time now.  I have sometimes felt a tingling sensation up my spine, and thought it was the anticipation of eating a jelly doughnut after the hike, but it could be Einstein’s gravitational waves.  Far out, dude, feeling totally amped about this whole ripple thing.



a picture of exuberance








OK, not taken in August, but the only picture I could find of the first bridge.



A close call, encountering the dreaded Dark Newt of Doom, and barely surviving. “Only these marishes and myrie bogs, In which the fearefull ewftes do build their bowres, Yeeld me an hostry mongst the croking frogs …”  (The Faerie Queen)



Seriously, can you imagine this little creature inspiring dread? Shame on Spenser for kicking up a skink, perhaps he was thinking of Warty Newts, or had a bad experience with salamanders, after a night tossing back mulled wine.  I know Renaissance folks associated newts and efts with sorcery, but personally, I’m always delighted to spot these cute little guys, and the Eastern Newts really are this bright and colorful, almost fluorescent.






Fillmore Glen is just outside of Moravia, NY, at the south end of Owasco Lake, one of the eastern Finger Lakes.  It’s a sleepy little village, but it produced the industrialist John D. Rockefeller, a U.S. President, and the first president of Cornell University.





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

Walks Around The Finger Lakes. August. Fillmore Glen



Have you ever experienced a recurring dream?

I have one, that comes to me during ragweed season.

I find myself walking and walking in the country.

Trees and plants, woods and fields, hills and dales.

There are people with me, walking and talking, talking and talking, talking of stalking, pointing and gesticulating.

In the dream, I don’t know the time, but I know it’s very early.  Too early for all this gesticulating – I can’t even say that word, at this early hour.  Hand-waving, then, and sounds like they’re speaking in Latin.  Are we monks??  I don’t understand any of it.

Then I hear a voice say clearly “…The F Stop…” and I look around for a bus.  But there isn’t any, so we keep walking.  I don’t know what time it is, but I know somehow, that it’s early, and we’re rambling in the grayness of Pre-Noon – that horrible, fuzzy zone that exists before lunchtime.

Without looking, I can tell my socks don’t match.  One feels like it’s wool, knee-high, and itchy.  I don’t own any socks like that.

It’s at that point, the slow dawning horror comes over me, as I become aware, that I’m not dreaming.

I’m actually awake, out and about at this ungodly hour, hiking apparently, and have fallen among  some roving cult of naturalists, botanists, forest-bathers, and photographers.  Why does this keep happening.  Apparently sometime last night, once again, I agreed to an Early Morning Nature Walk.  Don’t remember.  Don’t remember if anyone thought to give me breakfast first, or brunch, like decent, civilized people.  Don’t remember signing on to wander around in the shrubbery and thickets of binomial nomenclature.

But that explains the people in my dream, talking in Latin.  And the “F Stops” – the photographer has us straying through sodden “Depths of Field” or suchlike, and my socks are soggy.

Ragweed Season.  I don’t sleep well, and I don’t do awake so well, either.  I’m stumbling along, coked to the gills on antihistamines, Echinacea, Sudafed, Mucinex.  Just let the mosquitoes drink as much of my blood as they want.  They try to fly off, but then the Benadryl hits, and they drop from the sky like stones.

Walking at breakfast time.  Dogwoods, but no doughnuts, fritillaries, but no frittatas.  Someone offers me a handful of Dragon’s Tongues.  They’re surprisingly tiny and green.  It seems like the dream-state is resuming.  But “dragon’s tongues” turns out to be a mixture of grape vine tendrils and the leaves of a flowering mustard plant, they call “wild arugula.”  Not bad!  The grape tendrils are delicious, kind of lemony.  Someone pulls out a thermos and gives me some coffee.

I open my eyes, and it’s a pretty nice day!   Nature’s not so bad, really, as long as the plant life includes coffee beans and tea leaves.





Pollen thy name is Legion


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

It’s always a cakewalk in ragweed time.