Rainbow Ramble

Boathouse, Ferry & Rainbow

At the end of the rainbow… A ferry!

That seems like the perfect, cheesoise title for this photo I just snapped standing in the road between our home and the boathouse. Looking east at Vermont’s Green Mountains, though you’ll have to take my word for it since the rain and fog have veiled the view.

But fully in the dairy free camp in recent years, I’ll sidestep the cheesoise in favor of the inane.

No rainbows were injured making this picture.

Just to show I’m a nice guy. And comfortable patting myself on the back for being a nice guy. Or is that goofy? No, this is goofy.

No ferries were injured making this picture…

Basically the photo speaks (or whispers) enough on its own. I need to zip up my blather mouth and let the moment carry the post. Quietly. Except of the wind which was whipping. Is whipping. And the raindrops which — despite the sun and clear skies behind me — were beginning to pelt down. Hence my retreat from the boathouse hammock to the sunporch with a very soggy Griffin who chased frisbees in the rolling waves without the least concern for darkening skies and rainbows.

Yes, rainbows. There are actually two. Can you see the slightly fainter echo of a rainbow just to the right of the more pronounced one? Look carefully. And you might even spot a pot of gold. Or a ferry?

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Eve Ticknor’s Boathouse Photos

I’ve just received a lovely email from local artist and friend Eve Ticknor (aquavisions.me) with four soothing images of our boathouse. Eve’s dreamy boathouse photos last appeared in “Hammock Days of Indian Summer” last September.

Her new series offers a seasonal bookend to the last set. “Spring!” the photos sing soothingly. “Springing into summer. Soon. But for now, still spring…”

It’s an incredible gift when I receive artwork inspired by Rosslyn, and I offer my deepest thanks to Eve (and all of the other generous artists who’ve shared their creative visions with me) for allowing Rosslyn to a-muse you.

While I was waiting for the ferry! (Photo: Eve Ticknor)
While I was waiting for the ferry! (Photo: Eve Ticknor)

In addition to the boathouse photos, Eve included this enchanting image of a duckling family paddling along between the Essex ferry dock and the boathouse. They seem to have swum directly out of a patina’ed storybook!

Before I even realize it I’ve counted the ducklings. Today there are twelve remaining, twelve significantly larger and less fluffy adolescent ducks. I imagine a few ducklings fell prey to eagles or snapping turtles. Or perhaps they swapped momma ducks to join a smaller brood? My mind wanders to the the many perils ducklings face on their sprint to duckdom.

Thank you, Eve.

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Birdwatchers and Golden-Winged Warblers

Birdwatching: Golden-winged Warbler Watchers (Photo: Pete DeMola, Valley News)
Birdwatching: Golden-winged Warbler Watchers (Photo: Pete DeMola, Valley News)

Found him! Birdwatchers from across the United States studied the elusive golden-winged warbler as part of the 12th Annual Adirondack Birding Celebration June 6 at an Essex thicket. The golden-winged warbler is a “species of special concern,” said trip leader Brian McAllister. Populations have declined precipitously during the past 45 years due to a loss of breeding habitat and the expansion of the blue-winged warbler into the former’s range. (Denpubs.com)

I was meandering joyfully if absentmindedly along Lake Shore Road recently when I came upon a half dozen vehicles tucked into the tall grass at the intersection of Lake Shore and Clark Roads. I slowed. As I idled forward I passed at least another half dozen cars and then a “flock” of birders…

Golden-winged Warbler
Golden-winged Warbler (Photo: Mark Peck Bird Photography)

Actually, at first I didn’t know they were birder. I asked. They laughed. Apparently everyone who passed was asking them the same question.

“We’re birdwatchers,” one man explained.

“We’re looking at a golden-winged warbler,” a woman added. Or maybe she said, “We’re looking for golden-winged warblers.”

“Neat,” I said and pulled out my smartphone to document the occasion. Needless to say, I snapped a photo of the golden-winged warbler watchers and not the birds themselves.

At the time I was pretty sure that the crowd of binocular wielding birdwatchers were spying on one or more golden-winged warblers in a thicket near Webb Royce Swamp. But then I mentioned it to John Davis, intrepid explorer of wild places and critters. John was surprised. Really surprised.

“You mean they actually saw a golden-winged warbler?” He was excited if slightly incredulous.

“I think so,” I offered, suddenly uncertain.

“They weren’t just looking for it?”

Hmmm… Not such a subtle distinction, but suddenly I wasn’t 100% certain what I’d been told.

Species7
Golden-winged warbler (Photo: USDAgov)

So I checked my phone to see if I could find any indication from the photo whether or not the birdwatchers were seeking or celebrating. No photo. I looked again. I know I took the photo, maybe even two photos. But I must have inadvertently deleted the evidence. Or, perhaps the elusive golden-winged warbler is behind this mystery!

Perhaps you’ve witnessed a golden-winged warbler in the Adirondacks? Or the Champlain Valley?

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Friday the 13th: Garden Update

Garden Update: Soggy Friday the 13th
Garden Update: Soggy Friday the 13th

Rain rain go away,
Come again another day.

It’s been a soggy two days with nonstop rain falling from the fog-blocked dome above and spongy lawns that remember footfalls long after treads have passed.

The meteorological gurus promise a sunny weekend. If they’re correct, and sometimes they actually are, then our vegetable garden will begin to transform from bog to fresh produce market… If not, I plan to plant watercress!

Excuse my recent hiatus. Life continues afoot at Rosslyn, but I’ve been pouring time into manuscript revisions for an illustrated (think doodles) architectural handbook for our fair village on the still-flooded shores of Lake Champlain. Fun. Almost done.

In the next couple of weeks I’ll try to catch you up on recent developments chez nous. Not just another garden update. There’s actually plenty of news in the tree-smashing-fence-but-not-smashing-house drama category, and also some news of spring/summer progress in the orchard and vegetable garden. For example, for the first time I’m experimenting with natural pesticide solutions for the fruit trees and vegetable plants. I’ll try to tackle this topic soon.

For now, a couple of quick garden update snapshots of Rosslyn’s still partially unplanted and super-duper soggy vegetable patch. Can you identify what we’ve planted so far?

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Common Goldeneye Ducks

I recently met Lake Placid based photographer John DiGiacomo at the Essex derry dock where he was photographing Common Goldeneye ducks and other waterfowl.

The Essex-Charlotte ferry channel has become a popular destination for birders ever since Lake Champlain froze over last month. Ferry captains have been meticulously nibbling back the ice to maintain a navigable passage “canal” between New York and Vermont, and thin watery strip is doubling as a sanctuary for the lake’s waterfowl (including the rare Tufted Duck) accustomed to watery diets.

John DiGiacomo photographing Goldeneye ducks at Essex ferry dock. (Photo: virtualDavis)
John DiGiacomo photographing Goldeneye ducks at Essex ferry dock. (Photo: virtualDavis)

I introduced myself to John while he was photographing ducks near the Essex ferry pilings and offered Rosslyn’s boathouse as an alternative “birding blind”. He hauled his tripod and gear up the road and captured those magnificent photographs of Common Goldeneye ducks from the boathouse pier.

Dramatic Goldeneye Ducks

John was humble about the photos, apologizing for the grey day: “unfortunately the light was pretty poor that morning”. I share his preference for photographing with clear, high contrast natural lighting, but I actually think the flat light adds to the drama in this series, accentuating the crisp black and white coloration of the Goldeneye ducks. Spectacular!

Knowing little about Goldeneye ducks I poked around online and discovered these cool facts about Common Goldeneye ducks:

  • The eyes of a Common Goldeneye are gray-brown at hatching. They turn purple-blue, then blue, then green-blue as they age. By five months of age they have become clear pale green-yellow. The eyes will be bright yellow in adult males and pale yellow to white in females.
  • A female Common Goldeneye often lays eggs in the nest of another female… She may lay in the nests of other species of ducks as well.
  • After the ducklings leave the nest they can feed themselves and require only protection. Some females abandon their broods soon after hatching, and the young will join another female’s brood. Such mixed broods, known as “creches,” may also occur when a female loses some ducklings after a territorial fight with another female. Young scatter and mix when females fight, and not all of them get back to their mother when the fight ends. Some or all of the ducklings may be transferred to one brood, usually that of the territory owner. (Cornell Lab of Ornithology)

Beyond Goldeneye Ducks

Smithtown: Then & Now (Arcadia, 2011)
Smithtown: Then & Now

John also offered kind words about Rosslyn and mentioned a restoration related project he had been involved with that sounds intriguing.

I am thoroughly impressed with your restoration of Rosslyn. I love seeing these historic structures restored to their former glory. A few years back… I worked on a Then and Now book with the Smithtown (Long Island) Historical Society [Smithtown: Then & Now (Arcadia, 2011)]. It was a fascinating project as I learned so much of the town’s history from the three historians I worked with. I would joke with them that I wish I could take credit for the historical shots and not the current ones. So much history has been replaced with strip shopping centers or cookie cutter buildings. ~ John DiGiacomo

Little by little my bride and I are pulling together our own “then and now” visual history of this quirky property we call home. Too bad I didn’t have John shadowing me for 3+ years of Rosslyn’s rehabilitation to help document the process!

If you’re interested in learning more about John DiGiacomo’s photography you can visit his website, PlacidTimesPhotography.com. Don’t miss his spectacular nature and sports photos.

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Decrypting Bird Tracks in Snow

Decrypting Bird Tracks in Snow: Mallard (Photo: virtualDavis)
Decrypting Bird Tracks in Snow: Mallard (Photo: virtualDavis)

I don’t recall whether or not I was fascinated with animal and bird tracks in snow as a child, but I suspect I was. I am now… (Fox Tracks, Foxtrot & X-Country Skiing)

It wasn’t until my nephews (now teenagers but still “pocket sized” then) began asking me to identify bird tracks in snow, four legged critter tracks on muddy paths, and snake trails on the sand that I rediscovered how exciting it is to decipher locomotive narratives on the ground. That was more than a decade ago. The boys’ interests have wandered from bird tracks in snow to life’s adventures, but I’m still wandering around looking at the ground trying to figure out what passed where. And when. And why.

I’ve collected a backlog of track photos, mostly shot on a mobile phone because it’s often all I have along. I’m not sure I’ll manage to ever aggregate all of the photos in any comprehensive and useful manner, but I will pass along some of them as fancy strikes.

Most of my recent photos of bird tracks in snow have been shot in Rosslyn’s back meadows and woods during lunchtime cross country ski and snowshoe outings, but that image of the mallard tracks comes from the lawn right outside the “morning room” where I eat breakfast. Susan has become an avid bird feeder, and this winter an endless parade of mallards have joined the daily buffet. There’s something lighthearted, even happy about meandering duck prints!

Wing Prints in Snow

Less lighthearted but far more dramatic are the sort of wing prints visible in the photograph below which was captured by friend and Adirondack Coast neighbor, Kim Rielly.

Often a snow crater and feather printed like that will intercept the tracks of a squirrel or a rabbit. Sometimes a drip or two or scarlet in the snow to heighten the drama. But the story told by these bird tracks in the snow is more upbeat (and likely has a happier ending.)

Decrypting Bird Tracks in Snow: Grouse Hole (Credit: Kim Rielly)
Decrypting Bird Tracks in Snow: Grouse Hole (Credit: Kim Rielly)

Before we reached the actual trail, we stopped to see a great example of a “grouse hole”. The grouse entered the deep snow for shelter, and created the hole and accompanying wing marks in the snow when it emerged. Since the snow was so new, this must have been a recent rest stop for the bird. The hole itself had evidence of some feathers and “sawdust” looking stuff; positive clues. ~ Kim Rielly (Lake Champlain Region)

I learned to spot these grouse holes a few winters ago during a guided snowshoe trek, and I’ve been looking for the tell-tale “sawdust” (grouse scat) ever since. Not the coziest place to spend the night for those of us who depend on lasagna layered synthetic materials to stay warm and dry, but a downy grouse might well consider this the perfect winter’s repose!

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Midwinter Gator Service

I mentioned the other day that frosty, persistent midwinter is the perfect time to get Rosslyn’s lawn and field equipment serviced so that it’s ready for prime time once the snow retreats and the dandelions bloom.

A few days before the tractor was picked up, the folks at Mountain View Equipment (formerly Giroux Brothers) retrieved the John Deere “truckling” for a top-to-bottom Gator service. The machine is a couple of years old, and this is the first time we’ve sent it in for a checkup. The battery has been running down between uses; the left rear side panel is cracked from an encounter with the backhoe teeth; and fluids, filters, etc. were due for a change.

Gator Service & Home Again, Jiggety-Jig

As it turns out, the battery hasn’t been charging since the day we took ownership of the Gator. The in-line fuse that enables the battery to get charged was never installed at the John Deere factory. Hmmm… Quality control?

The v-belt was ready for replacement ($60, ouch!) and the fuel sender was giving inaccurate readings. Not mission critical, but it would be a pain in the posterior to be working in the back meadows and find out that the Gator was out of gas despite a full gauge reading. And the replacement panel was installed. All of the routine maintenance (filters, spark plugs, fluids, etc.) was undertaken including a pressure wash and spit shine. Well, minus the spit, I hope.

Gator service complete.

Gator Service Done, We’re Ready for Spring

With a freshly spruced up Gator, all we need is for the snow to melt and the temperatures to double. And – as if on cue – a blast of warm weather spoiled us on Tuesday (when the Gator was dropped off) despite a blizzard forecast.

[Wondering about the music layered over the Gator service video? I couldn't resist, the song's called Gator Drive!]

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Midwinter Tractor Service

Ten below zero without wind chill and Babe – our cooold blue tractor – needed to be warmed up with a kerosene heater under a tarp “tent” in the carriage barn before it would start. (Note to self: Next time, remember to plug the tractor in over night…) Then off to Peru Tractor Center for windwinter tractor service.

Babe’s Annual Checkup

I’ve learned that cars and tractors and John Deere Gators need annual checkups just like we do. And early late February or early March is the perfect time of year to service Rosslyn’s heavier equipment so that everything is ready to run come spring.

When the tractor service pickup was scheduled there wasn’t any significant snow in the forecast. The good folks at Carriage House Garden Center in Willsboro plow our driveway, so in theory we no longer need to rely on the tractor for snow removal. But it’s a handy backup in case we need to we get a huge snow dump and then need to remove our cars  before Carriage House plows us out.

But a clear forecast indicated that this was a good time for Babe to take a tractor spa-cation. That little slide show above was photographed on March 4 around 7:30 AM.

March Blizzard Blankets Essex

A week and a half later we’ve received no update and no tractor drop-off. We have received possibly the biggest snowfall of the year. Murphy’s Law.

Fortunately the Carriage House team has cleared the driveway (after a new fellow accidentally plowed a new driveway across our back lawn), but Doug is still lamenting the fact that we don’t have the tractor to push back the banks. Maybe it will be dropped off early next week? Maybe not? Hurry up and wait! Again…

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Slow Cooked Chicken

Sorry the slide show is so fuzzy. And that this post is flickering to life almost a pair of weeks after the last tender morsel of slow cooked chicken went tobogganing down my gullet.

As for the fuzzy photos, I’m not quite sure what happened. They looked crisp before I turned them into a slide show. Technology is an unreliable bed buddy! I’ll try to get the slide show gremlins sorted before posting another.

Blustery Weekend = Slow Cooked Chicken

It was bitterly cold two weekends ago, and not at all enticing for outdoor adventures. No sunshine. No fresh snow. Bone chilling cold, and constant wind. In short, the perfect conditions for culinary adventures!

March triggered a deep-down biological alarm clock – ring-ring, ring-ring – that’s been jangling in my ear. “Spring thaw.” “Snow drops.” “Seed the tomatoes and eggplant…” And yet, snow and ice and cooold temps endure. It feels like springtime may still be a long way off.

So rather than lamenting winter’s overstay, I decided to cook up some comfort food. I had picked up a 3.8 pound chicken with our Full and By farm share the previous Thursday, so I pulled out the big blade and played butcher.

Improvisation: Slow Cooked Chicken 101

Some meals require advance planning, meticulous execution, and draconian quality control. I don’t cook too many of those meals! I prefer more extemporaneous culinary adventures. Raid the larder for fresh goodies and then divine a common link…

This slow cooked chicken fell unquestionably into the improvisational school. Whack up a local fresh bird into breasts, legs and wings. Tip the bird bits into hot coconut oil and brown up the skins with salt and pepper. Chop up some onions and scallions and heat them until just shy of caramelizing then return the chicken to the pot, add parsley bay leaves, garlic and the better part of a bottle of dry white wine. The most important step is also the simplest: slow cook all day. Let the house fill up with aromas so tempting that even my vegetarian bride comments on how delicious it smells.

At day’s end, celebrate with a tasty, local, healthy supper. Comfort food…

A special thanks to Sara and James at Full and By Farm for providing the fresh, organic chicken, onions and scallions that transformed this frosty midwinter weekend into a slow cooked chicken banquet!

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If You Lose Your Purpose, It’s Like You’re Broken

"If you lose your purpose, it’s like you’re broken." ~ Hugo Cabret
“If you lose your purpose, it’s like you’re broken.” ~ Hugo

Everything has a purpose, even machines… They do what they are meant to do… Maybe that’s why a broken machine always makes me so sad, they can’t do what they are meant to do… Maybe it’s the same with people. If you lose your purpose… it’s like you’re broken. ~ Brian Selznick (spoken by Hugo Cabret  in The Invention of Hugo Cabret)

In the summer of 2006 my bride and I set out to repair a broken house. Rosslyn, a stately but crumbling old home, boathouse, ice house and carriage barn needed us. We could save them. We should save them. We would reawaken a property that had lost its purpose. We would pump our passion, our time and our limited loot into repairing the broken property.

If You Lose Your Purpose

But over time we came to understand that we were at least as broken as Rosslyn. We had both lost our purpose, and we were both foundering. Leaping into an adventure as feckless and risky as moving our lives and work from New York City to the Adirondacks while renovating four buildings many decades past their “best if used by” dates nearly destroyed us. Emotionally. Economically. Physically. And yet, little by little we discovered that Rosslyn could (and eventually would) repair us. The broken, purposeless wreck we set out to rebuild ultimately rebuilt us.

Two years ago I holed up in a remote abbey in the New Mexico desert to sort through my recollections and artifacts from the years of renovation. A month alone reading and revising. One night I watched Hugo for a refreshing distraction. A children’s movie. Sort of. Sort of not. I was enchanted. Something happened to me that had never taken place before (nor since). As the movie ended, I restarted it and watched the entire film through a second time. Double header. Better the second time than the first. It resonated profoundly with the book I was trying to write, a memoir about the years spent rehabilitating Rosslyn.

It’s Like You’re Broken

Hugo is one of the best films i’ve seen in a long time. Be forewarned though, this is not your typical fantasy movie…  The movie reveals the darkest times and how fear can be the driving force in everything we do… Also the fragile nature of human beings can be at any age and the limitations we have are only the ones that we put on ourselves. ~ Melissa Arditti (Windsor Square)

I’m not sure that Hugo is one of the best films I’ve seen, but it was the perfect narrative at the perfect time. And I will watch it again. Soon. I need to, in part, because I’m still grappling with this idea of a what it means to lose your purpose. I’m still working on repairing the broken machine. Rosslyn. And within. I’m reawakening purpose. Thank you for assisting me along the journey.

If you haven’t seen Hugo yet, here’s a teaser, the passage that still appeals to me two years after first experiencing it.

Purpose Lost & Purpose Found

As a storyteller and I writer I’m conscious of the temptation to “find” purpose where it isn’t, and to ascribe purpose where and how it fits best. How I’d like it to be.

Over the past decade I’ve been trying to unlearn the habit. Rosslyn Redux, marriage, small town life, the joys and woes of midlife and the rapidly evolving world of publishing have served as my tutors, and I’m confident that I’m beginning to make headway. Two final quotations from Hugo offer the optimistic note I’m hoping to achieve in my closing, and they both offer a glimpse into the view from where I am lately.

I like to imagine that the world is one big machine. You know, machines never have any extra parts. They have the exact number and type of parts they need. So I figure if the entire world is a big machine, I have to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too. ~ Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret

In that moment, the machinery of the world lined up. Somewhere a clock struck midnight, and Hugo’s future seemed to fall perfectly into place. ~ Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The machinery is still aligning, but I’m confident that soon it will all fall into place.

Word to the wise? If you lose your purpose, hold off on plunging into the sort of adventure we undertook. First watch Hugo. And then… plunge!

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