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Happy Halloween!

>> Saturday, October 31, 2009

Wednesday is wishing you a Happy Halloween.  Honestly, she is.  See?  She's very excited about it:

(We adopted weenie Wednesday on Halloween last year.  Oh, come on, if you were to find a wee, lonely, all black kitten on Halloween, wouldn't you have the urge to name her after an Addams Family character??)


Spooktacular Halloween

>> Friday, October 30, 2009

Although I am not generally much of a holiday person, I do have to say that I like Halloween.  Part of my appreciation for the holiday is that it provides an excuse for costuming.  It is great fun both to make a costume, and to have the opportunity of being one of my many alter-egos for a few hours (more on that in a few days).

I also love one of the other key accoutrements of Halloween:  all things creepy.  Thus, Saturday evening Spouse and I betook ourselves off to one of the local Halloween festivals for a taste of the season.

Beaver Lake Nature Center is a lovely spot for a quick ramble in the woods, and in fact was the place where I spent my great summer camp week as a kid and first earned the nickname for which this blog is named.  We do not go there often now because the dogs can't go in, and if we're headed off to the woods for a weekend jaunt we generally want to burn off as much basset hound energy as we possibly can.  But it is a nice little spot, and they do a wonderful job with the Halloween festival.

Sadly, in such low light conditions I needed a tripod, and possibly a remote, to get decent photos of the jack-o'-lanterns.  I had neither.  But a few pics of the pumpkins did turn out okay, so I thought I'd share.

It's hard to see how big this pumpkin is - but just note that it's sitting on a full-sized pallet:

Someone's got a deliciously warped sense of humor:

 And this one was just impressive:

Possibly even better than the pumpkin display (which was way more amazing than these few poor shots show) was the raptor show.  A wildlife rehabilitator gave a brief presentation and shared a few of her friends with us.

Meet Victor the Vulture, who I understand was stolen from the wild as an egg, then hand reared by a human until confiscated by the Department of Environmental Conservation:

Too tame to be released to the wild, he performs at regular educational programs.  I learned that vultures' primary self defense mechanism is the ability to projectile vomit the most noxious substance conceivable.  Icky.  But I can't help it - I love vultures.  They're cute in a hunched up cartoony gloom-and-doom sort of way.  Just look at that ickle naked pink face!

Also part of the show was a screech owl who had been hit by a car, and just "isn't quite right in the head" so can't be released back to the wild.

Screech owls are just too cute for words.  Check out those weenie little ear-like tufts!

And finally, this fellow kind of gave me the creeps when he looked right at me.  Another victim of a collision with a vehicle, this great horned owl suffered brain damage and cannot fly well enough to be released.

Talk about a grouchy expression.  I wouldn't want to cross him.

The raptors weren't the only cool critters on display.  Also present was some sort of reptile in a sweater:

Query: does a sweater do any good on a cold-blooded animal??

And I shall leave you with a demon with a tarantula.

Nice and Creepy.

Happy Halloween!


Don't trifle with the affections of plants

>> Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Apparently back in 2007, some Canadian researchers determined that plants recognize their own family members and "play nice" with them.  Well, at least common seashore plants called sea rockets and a small flowering plant named Arabidopsis thalianal do.  See MSNBC article on the research here.   (If this is universally true, my friend who is a trusts and estates lawyer would say plant siblings play a lot nicer with each other than human siblings do.) 

On the other hand, if plants are planted next to strangers rather than relatives, they commence competitions.  Each tries to out-root the other to steal all the nutrients.  They allegedly differentiate between family members and strangers through chemicals secreted by the roots.

Some of my favorite quotes from this article:

"When sibling plants grow next to each other, their leaves will often touch and intertwine, while stranger plants near each other grow rigidly upright and avoid touching."

What a great visual.  How cute those little hand-holding sibling plants are. 

"Plants have no visible sensory markers, and they can't run away from where they are planted."

Are they sure of this, I wonder?  Some of my plants sure seemed to hoist up their green ruffly skirts in early spring and wander off to the great green yonder that is someplace other than my garden.  Query:  Where DO they go when they disappear overnight like that?  I can't figure out who deserves the blame.

But seriously, though, this presents some real food for thought.  (pardon the pun)  Most of my garden plants I start from seeds.  Are all the kale seeds in that packet from one plant or a family of plants?  Or are they seeds from unrelated plants who will try to out-compete one another?  Might this explain why one of each species often turns out to be 10x larger than the rest?  And how about planting separate species next to each other?  Perhaps planting different plants farther apart might help protect each from the competition of its neighbors.  Or, if you put plants next to each other that have similar capacities for competition and growth, might it cause all of those plants to be bigger and lusher as they each try to take up more space than their neighbors?

It's a fascinating concept, in so many ways.  It makes my plants seem far more animate to think of them in this light.  I'm not sure it gives me any real practical ideas for helping my garden thrive, but it sure makes me like my plants that much more.


A Squirrel with a Serious Case of the Munchies

While tripping gaily through Highland Forest last weekend we stumbled upon the following:

Huh?  Here's a close-up:

That is a massive pile of 100% pine cone scales and denuded pine cones.  And if you look closely, you can see that the whole pile is riddled with holes as though someone is living in it:

The neighboring pine trees?  Not a scale nor cone under a one of them.  Take, for example, this tree immediately adjacent:

Two of the possible conclusions I can draw from this are that 1) there is one enormous squirrel with a steroid problem who favors that tree, or 2) someone's been growing marijuana at Highland Forest and this squirrel has the munchies.

Practically speaking, would a squirrel burrow in the pine cone detritus?  I wouldn't really think so - but I have a hard time believing this is all from a chipmunk.  A whole family of squirrels or chipmunks lives up that tree and only ever eats while in its branches?  What else eats pine cones?

Seriously - this one has me a bit baffled.  Anybody ever seen the likes before??


Fall 2009 Theme = MUD

>> Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Every single hike we've gone on this fall has involved absurd quantities of mud. 

Huge sections of the Adirondacks trails looked like this:

And this:

And you've seen the picture of Lucy with the mud.  Or really, the mud with Lucy.

I mean, I expect absurd quantities of mud in the spring as a consequence of all the snow melt.  But this much in October?  Really?  I've actually talked to a few avid Adirondack hikers who said the trails were worse this fall than they'd ever remembered seeing at this time of year.  Others, however, just shrugged and said, "yeah, I guess there was a bit of mud".  That's Adirondack 46ers for you - they no longer notice such trifling inconveniences as having their boots slucked right off their feet by three-foot deep bogs where the trail should be. 

Who is right regarding this fall's rainfall?  While I've spent plenty of time in the Adirondacks, I've never gone regularly enough in every season to judge whether this year's October mud fest was unusual.  I mean, deceptively deep pits of mud that flow over the tops of my boots and suck so hard that I can't get my feet back out?  Perhaps that's just part of the high peaks experience, kind of like the Fireswamp has lightning sand and ROUSes.*

This past weekend at Highland Forest was really amazing, though, and convinced me that this really IS an exceptionally muddy fall.  Or else that we're picking exceptionally muddy days for every single hike.  I've hiked at Highland in every season, and never, never seen the trails so consistently impassable.  We had to trek through the underbrush and got lost a few times in order to avoid having to swim or build a birchbark canoe on the spot.

For example:


In case you cannot tell from the photo, the trail lies straight forward through - ugh - that.

It helps not at all that I have a remarkable talent for mud.  If there is a tree lying across the trail and Spouse leaps over it, his foot will land neatly on the one small hummock of grass on the other side.  I, on the other hand, will invariably slap my foot into the deepest part of the stickiest ooziest bit of mud, right up to the ankle.  Which leaves me looking like this:

One thing is for sure:  this fall has cured our dogs of their neatness fetish.  They used to avoid mud with cat-like precision, and stubbornly refuse to take another step if it meant a little squishing between their toes.  Now they just plow forward, completely oblivious to the cold moist ickiness sucking at their bellies, or the great gobbets of greasy brown they are flinging back at us.  Of course, where they go, we must follow, as we're attached.  We can no longer guide them toward the high ground without a great deal of tugging and convincing.  Some kind of happy medium is always an impossibility with those two bullheaded beasts.

Oh well.  Have I mentioned my abiding love of Gore-Tex boots and gaiters?

A plea:  okay, so allegedly this area of the country can expect between 32 and 64 inches of rain annually.  That's a mighty big range.  I can't seem to find rainfall statistics for this fall that will tell me anything useful.  Anyone have any insight or good web sites to share?

*if that sounds familiar but you didn't already figure out why, it's a reference to the Princess Bride.


Highland glories

>> Monday, October 26, 2009

Sunday was a lovely day, so Spouse and I decided to do our best to wear out the hounds at Highland Forest.

I love Highland - I've been going there since I was a kid in all seasons for all sorts of activities.  It's great for hiking, cross-country skiing or snow shoeing, winter camping with girl scouts, mountain biking, and horseback riding.  There are lots of different trails through different types of terrain, and it seems as though there's hardly ever anyone there.  If you haven't yet caught on, when it comes to the great outdoors I'm completely anti-social.  I like quiet and solitude, aside from the people I'm actually hiking with.

The sun was shining, and while most of the leaves were on the ground there were enough touches of gold to make the woods look positively luminous.

We made a fatal mistake right at the start, though.  We forgot the haltis (funky harnesses that go around the dogs' snouts rather than their necks so they can't pull as hard).  Despite countless hours of effort and lots of obedience classes, our hounds perform poorly on leashes and yank like crazy whenever they catch an interesting scent.  Oh, wait, they're hounds - there's always an interesting scent.  With a low center of gravity and a lot of strength pulling in unison, they'll happily drag their human down the street, Marmaduke style.  The haltis don't solve the problem (their neck muscles are too strong for anything to work completely), but they certainly help.

Our fearless leaders:

We walked (and squelched) nearly 8 miles in total, up and down hills, but the hounds never got in the least bit tired and yanked and yoinked the entire time.  They irritated my husband so much that about 3/4 of the way through the walk he crossly pronounced that the dogs have two modes: annoying and asleep.

Here we are taking a break from the yanking in a lean-to.  I love Lucy's little face peeking out:

It was simply lovely though.  The light was so pretty, and the temperature comfortable with just jeans and long sleeves.  A few pictures to leave you with:

And, because I can never seem to resist a good climbing tree:



A fine toady specimen

>> Friday, October 23, 2009

While stacking wood last weekend, Spouse stumbled upon this fine specimen of toad-dom:

I mean, really - have you ever seen a fatter toad?  Larger, yes, but this dude is one wide load.

As much as I love woolly bears, I love frogs and toads even more.  They're awfully cool.  In captivity the American Toad can live up to 40 years, although most presumably don't last that long in the wild.  And they eat garden pests, which is a very appealing characteristic.  Large sections of my gardens tend to disappear overnight, to be replaced by luminous trails of slug slime, and we're often driven inside by blood-thirsty swarms of mosquitoes as we live rather near a swamp.  I'm my world, the more toads, the merrier.

One of the many reasons I love Spouse?  When he found this fellow he rushed into the house with it in his gloved hands, calling my name and telling me he had a present for me.  I love it.

We couldn't leave Henry (so dubbed by Spouse) in the wood pile in the driveway because it needed to be stacked, and we were afraid that if we put him in the newly stacked woodpile he'd get squashed.  It seemed to me that what this guy needed was a proper toad abode.

I searched through the barn and came up with an old ceramic pot that was no longer in use.  Two well-placed taps with a hammer, and voila!

We nestled it into a particularly soft earthy part of the garden, and put Henry in front of it.  A few minutes later, if you looked closely, all you could see were parts of his toady backside in there:

We're hoping Henry decides to stay.  Heaven knows I prefer toads to slugs and mosquitoes!


Oooh! Shiny!

>> Thursday, October 22, 2009

While you've surely already gathered that I'm an outdoorsy chick, which is mostly what this blog is about, I most certainly have another side, too:  fashion-loving diva.  No, seriously.  Couture clothing makes my heart skip a beat.  And shoes!  Oh my.  How I love them.  I have been known to appear in public in "spike heels, full assault make-up and an enormous fur collar".*  Yes, I will climb an Adirondack high peak one day and appear at a silent auction fundraiser or symphony concert the next night in 4 inch tall Stuart Weitzmans.

My husband says I am the antithesis of myself.

With regard to jewelry, he says I'm part crow.  No matter what I'm doing or discussing, the world grinds to a screeching halt when I see sparkly gems:  "Oooh!  Shiny!"

So, after our Saturday morning frolic at the Farmers' Market, and before our walk at Taughannock Falls, we stopped at one of our other Very Favorite Places: Micky Roof's.  If you take my advice and plan a Saturday outing to the Ithaca Farmers' Market, I highly recommend stopping at The Jewelbox (or see blog here).

Dangerous, dangerous place.  Over the years we have spent way too much money there, including having had Micky design our wedding rings.  Is it a bad sign that when we walk in the door, the faces of Micky and her two employees, Sarah and Steve, light right up?  Hm.  Probably is.

Sunday was our six-year wedding anniversary, so this time when we stopped at Micky's, I got to pick something out.  I always have a ridiculously hard time selecting one item at Micky's, but I eventually managed.  It's not one of Micky's own pieces, but rather from a new collection they just got in by Bjorg.  Bjorg is a Norwegian company that makes some of the funkiest most awesome pieces I've seen in a long time.  They're full of literary references (e.g. the necklace with the quote "Is this a dagger which I see before me?" that has a dagger hanging in front of the quote) and snarkiness (e.g. the heart necklace that is a heart - as in a human heart, with ventricles and arteries and whatnot).

I think I selected an awesomely funky necklace that is frightfully fitting for me:

He's got sparkly eyes, though you can't really tell in this photo.  I am informed it's technically a raven rather than a crow, but close enough.  :)

*as Renee Fleming described herself in the liner notes of her album Haunted Heart.


It just isn't fall without a woolly bear

>> Wednesday, October 21, 2009

I have always, always had a major thing for woolly bear caterpillars, a.k.a. Isabella Tiger Moth larvae, or Pyrrharctia isabella.  I simply adore them.  I kept them as "pets" as a kid, and distinctly recall holding a funeral for one that didn't quite survive to mothdom.  Here's me with one of my woolly bear buddies long ago:

I also clearly recall an autumn hike in which I toodled along after my parents and older sister, scooping up every woolly bear I could find and dropping it into the hood of my jacket.  I had them everywhere by the end of that walk - dozens of them.

Even now, every fall I spend most of my hikes subconsciously scanning for them in hopes of being able to spend a few minutes with one bumping over my knuckles.  I drive around in fear of squishing one, and in fact am still traumatized by the memory of one fabulous and horrible autumn that produced an incredible crop of woolly bears such that it was impossible to avoid squishing them by the dozens while driving.

I'm not sure why I find them so appealing, but I do.  They seem like gentle little creatures, with such lovely fuzzy stripes.  I remember being so disappointed to learn that the adult moths are a drab brown color.  Folklore has it that you can predict how harsh the upcoming winter will be by the width of the rust-colored stripe:  wide stripe = mild winter, narrow stripe = better make sure the snow shovel is in good working order and you have plenty of stacked wood.

Has this been an acceptable autumn?  Why yes, it has.  This fine specimen allowed me a few minutes of joy at Taughannock Falls:



Autumn stroll

>> Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Following our Farmers' Market excursion in Ithaca, we decided to take advantage of some of the wonderful places around the area for a walk.  The Ithaca area is full of gorges, created long ago by glaciers.  Many of the gorges have parks and hiking trails.  Hence, the most classic of all Ithaca bumper stickers:

Very punny.

We selected one of our old autumn favorites: Taughannock State Park, off route 89 just outside of Ithaca.

Most people seem to walk the Taughannock Falls gorge trail, right up the bottom of the gorge and to the base of a picturesque water fall that is actually higher than Niagara Falls (but with a lot less water).  While that is a lovely walk, it's short, and we tend to prefer a little more solitude for our woodland wanderings.  Instead, we usually walk the rim trails - this time the South Rim. 

It was a perfectly lovely autumn day, although deceptively brisk.  The hounds, of course, thought it was a great romp.  Well, Lucy did, anyway.  I think Simon did not much relish certain parts of the experience.

You can't see them well in this picture, but can you spot the group of people on the trail ahead of Spouse and hounds?  It just so happened that the SUNY Cortland women's hockey team was engaged in a team-building scavenger hunt along the upper trails as well.  So, we repeatedly ran into groups of 5 or 6 young women at a time, who squealed with delight over our pair of goofy, wrinkly, droopy basset hounds.  Lucy's response to attention is to to try to slurp and climb inside the skin of every person who will pay attention to her.  She just eats it right up.

Poor Simon.  This is generally how he feels about strangers:

Our kids were rescues from the local Humane Association shelter, and given how skittish and hand shy they were we assume they were abused before Spouse and I adopted them.  Lucy has recovered just fine, but my sweet Slimy just tries to hide from strangers.  Poor kid.  He spent parts of the walk wishing Spouse's and my legs were larger and better for hiding behind.

It was no Adirondack High Peak and wasn't much of a workout, but it was incredibly beautiful and nice to get outside.  I'll leave you with one of my more favorite shots of the day.  No idea who created him, but I suspect he may have been one of the objects to be found in the scavenger hunt:

Bat with some frightful fangs?  Angry bunny with a chin hair problem?


The Ultimate Farmers' Market

>> Monday, October 19, 2009

Spouse and I used to live in Ithaca, New York.  It's a fascinating place, and while we certainly can't say we loved everything about it, it is a great place to spend a day.  So, Saturday morning we ventured to the Ithaca Farmers' Market, which in my world is THE Farmers' Market, against which all others are measured.  Thus far none others quite match it.

First, in order to understand the Ithaca Farmers' Market, you need to understand a little bit about Ithaca.  It is an extremely liberal little city, crunchy-granola to the core, and its citizens are remarkably politically active.  In fact, Ithaca can almost be summed up by one bumper sticker:

Yes, I would definitely say most true Ithacans both eat tofu and vote.  Seriously, half the fun of the Ithaca Farmers' Market is reading all the bumper stickers on the cars in the parking lot. 

Anywho, the Ithaca Farmers' Market is so fabulous for so many reasons.  There are food vendors serving all sorts of organic ethnic tasties and the whole place smells delicious.  Better yet, nearly every farm booth sells organic produce, and it is a requirement that all vendors only sell food grown or raised within a 30 mile radius.  Inside the market:

Plus, remember that Ithaca is in the Finger Lakes region which is famous for its wines, so there are plenty of wine merchants with free tasting, as well as my very favorite hard apple cider vendor ever, Bellwether Hard Cider.  That stuff has an amazing knack of disappearing from our wine rack.

Spouse purchasing organic broccoli raab from one of the many picturesque booths:

By comparison, the Regional Market in Syracuse (which we do our best to support anyway) has one consistent organic fruit and veggie vendor, and I'd guess that nearly 1/2 the vendors are merely importers rather than farmers.  (Lemons in Syracuse in October are a dead giveaway that the produce isn't local...  The Regional Market does, however, have some awesome meat vendors for organic buffalo, lamb, veal, and eggs.)

On top of all the amazing food vendors at the Ithaca Farmers' Market, the place is aesthetically pleasing.  The building is lovely, is nestled right against beautiful Cayuga Lake, and is peppered with local artisans selling jewelry, hammocks, photographic prints, paintings, ceramics, glass beads, silk screened clothing (all organic cotton, of course), and other lovelies.  And then there's also musical entertainment:

I spent way more money than I had planned, as always happens when we go there, but as also always happens, left with outstanding stuff: beautiful fresh greens, crisp apples, huge pumpkins, hard cider, and some artisan gems.

As if that wasn't enough to put me in a fabulous mood, on our way out, we spotted this Ithaca bumper sticker gem:

Love it!


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