Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Adirondack Winters

Adirondack winters aren't so bad. Sebyan Russia, coldest inhabited place on earth, sees -96°F. We only get to -40°F or so.

(from "The Reindeer People" by Piers Vitebsky)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Excerpt: A Few Summer Days in the Adirondacks

Author's Note: The tone of the book vacillates between naturalist and philosopher, mostly leaning towards the naturalist. Here is a rough excerpt from the naturalist perspective.

JUNE 24, 2



The ice storm of 1998 that left large portions of the northeastern North American continent without power for weeks also left indelible marks on the forest here. Large gaps in the forest cover where individual trees and in some cases whole stands of trees were toppled. In the upland mixed woods, an explosion of saplings and ground vegetation fills the forest floor. Within the cedar swamp, what was once an unbroken bare floor is tangled with ferns and grasses and sedges and countless maple seedlings. Unlike other forest communities, the near monospecific cedar swamp takes decades to form and does not quickly recover from such perturbations, natural or otherwise. Cedar clearings do not quickly sprout new cedar forests, in part due to the slow growth of the tree and in part due to the incessant browsing of deer. In its interior, the undisturbed cedar forest is bare beneath its canopy and, except for the tangle of dead lower branches, walking through the cedar forest is like walking through a shaded stand of telephone poles, albeit crooked and bent poles. In the absence of undergrowth, one can see great distances, limited only by the cumulative effect of the standing trunks and uneven lay of the land. It is a magical forest, with its soft ground springy from underlying roots and the sometimes heard gurgle of subterranean streams. All that changed in the January 1998. The cedar swamp is now a tangle of toppled and leaning trees, its unbroken paths strewn with the tops of trees that came crashing down under the inexorable weight of ice. Slow to rot and slow to sprout anew, it may be a century before others might walk these woods as I did pre-ice storm, marveling at the unobstructed nature of acres of cedar forest.


Without anesthesia, I have too much energy to be contained within a 24 hour day and lay awake, brain crackling like a pine log on a campfire.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Excerpt: A Few Summer Days in the Adirondacks

Author's Note: The tone of the book vacillates between naturalist and philosopher, mostly leaning towards the naturalist. Here then is a rough excerpt from the philosophical perspective.

JULY 18, 2008

The air is heavy with moisture, the sky hangs low, an unbroken plain of phosphorescent grey clouds. Thunderstorms roared through at daybreak, continuing for several hours. Now, at 1:30 in the afternoon, after breezy quiet, thunderclouds pop up across the Adirondack plateau, their red-hot intensity magically appearing on time-lapse radar screens where moments before only clear terrain existed. Here in the corner where Franklin County meets Essex County, two angry storm systems have appeared, forming in place and announcing their presence with rumbling ferocity. The old dog, Bruiser, looks anxiously out the window, nervously licking his lips and preparing to pant & shiver, while the young pup, Sadie, sleeps soundly, splayed out on her side in the middle of the passageway between the living room and great room. Storms, to Sadie, are non-issues while old Bruiser frets each rumbling wave of sound.

The Adirondacks are home to quick, fierce storms of wind & rain in the summer, ice and snow in the winter. Between days of exquisite climate are days of ferocious weather. And the change from one to the other can come quickly, a fact sadly attested to by the number of drowned paddlers and frozen hikers we see each year. While the land appears tamed and differing only slightly in population density and lack of cluttering signage from the urban/suburban villages of the typical visitor, the Adirondacks are indeed still wild by nearly any definition of the word. Our homes and hamlets sit as frontier outposts in a land whose flora, fauna, and climate still carry the wilderness that generations of settlers have yet to tame.

Sadly, however, our presence is not without impact. Invasive species are threatening its waters. Pollution is detectable in the remotest of lakes and ponds. A century or more of fisheries manipulations has altered the population dynamics of nearly every waterway. Native strains of trout exist in but a handful of ponds, finally carefully managed and protected so they may continue to thrive.

And as I muse about this landscape, the sky continues to toss an errant rumble against the verdant, windswept landscape. Forests tremble beneath an incessant breeze. Old Bruiser pants, young Sadie climbs into her kennel, her womb of safety ingrained into her psyche since young puppyhood. But as I pass and catch her attention, she exits kennel and lays out on her side to sleep, uncaring of the jarring rumbles, at my feet. Bruiser coughs nervously, instilling some of his unease in Sadie so that she gets up and paces between living room and great room, pausing to lay her chin tail-wagging expectantly on my knee as she passes my chair.

Excerpt: A Few Summer Days in the Adirondacks

Author's Note: The tone of the book vacillates between naturalist and philosopher, mostly leaning towards the naturalist. Here is a rough excerpt from the naturalist perspective.

MAY 28, 2008 • EARLY JUNE

GPS: 44°13'12"N 73°47'10"W
Elevation: 989 feet

Along the slopes and ridges surrounding Keene Valley, fresh leaves on deciduous trees are bright light green set against the darker, almost black green of pines & spruce.


Stellate clusters of yellow-green flowers of Cypress Spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias) dot the fields and open lowland areas and sandy, well-drained roadsides. This introduced species (naturalized from Europe as a garden escape) blooms from May 29 to June 16, presenting its flowers in umbels, an umbrella-like flower cluster with all flower stalks radiating from a central point. Queen Anne's Lace is familiar example of an umbellate flowering plant. What at quick glance appear to be yellowish greenish flower petals are actually bracts, modified leaves associated with the flower. The actual flowers are small and inconspicuous, with three or more within each pair of bracts.


Grey foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) and Red Foxes (Vulpes fulva), among the smaller members of the Canidae (dog, wolf, fox family) can be seen at night in the fields and forests, marking territory, seeking a meal of small mammals, perhaps collecting food for young born in April or May.


At night, the strident call of Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer), the ducklike clacking of Wood Frogs (Rana sylvatica), and the short trill of Grey Tree Frogs (Hyla versicolor), fill the air around every bog and wet place. Later in the summer, these tiny amphibians are sometimes found while walking in the woods and fields, mistakenly called baby frogs by the young children who can’t resist picking them up to show to their parents. At maturity, the tiny, brown Spring Peeper is just 3/4 - 1 1/4 inches in size. The nocturnal Spring Peeper is found in wooded areas in or near permanent or temporarily flooded ponds and swamps and hibernates under logs and loose bark. The Grey Tree Frog is 1 1/4 - 2 inches. The nocturnal Grey Tree Frog lives high in trees and descend only at night, usually just to chorus and to breed. The Wood Frog, brown with a bandit's mask of black behind its eyes, is only slightly larger at 1 3/8 - 2 3/4 inches. In the colder parts of its range, the Wood Frog is an explosive breeder. Swarms of pairs lay fertilized eggs within 1 or 2 days, then disappear into the surrounding country. It may venture far from water during summer, and hibernates in forest debris during winter. The Spring Peeper, a Chorus Frog, and Grey Tree Frogs are members of the Tree Frog Family (Hylidae), while the Wood Frog is a member of the True Frog Family (Ranidae) and closely related to the familiar Leopard Frog.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008



By Michael R. Martin

I am making good progress on my book. Although I am not quite ready to release any excerpts, I hope to do so in the near future.