The Weather Holds

September 10, 2022

Lovely full moon last night, a beautiful orange rising over the hills.

Here are pics of the Adirondack Canoe Classic on Saturday. It’s a 90 mile kayak-canoe-guideboat race over three days, starting in Old Forge and ending in Saranac Lake. This is from the start of the second day, in Long Lake.

Early morning, before the race.

Here they come, in the distance.

Closer now.

Under the bridge.

Classic Adirondack guideboat.

On to Tupper Lake. That’s the Seward range in the background.

Getting There

August 26, 2022

It’s amazing how putting books on the shelf makes you feel settled.

A corner of my kitchen.

There’s about a zillion outlets in my new place.

Samhain is settling in nicely.

Still no phone service.

I’ve moved 31 times in my life. This is only the third time I’ve lived on a hill. The other two times I was living in San Francisco.

I’ve never felt such a strong urge to make a break from the past. I think it’s about not wanting to stay wallowed in feelings of victimhood, after the way I was treated in Keene Valley.

What I love most about the country is seeing the stars. Take a look outside tonight on this Virgo New Moon, if you can.

This is a NASA photo from the Space Station

The Owl’s Heads I have known

August 19, 2022

The other night a huge owl flew across my windshield.

I didn’t know what it was at first, just a streak of brown, like a darting deer, swooping a few feet above the ground. A flying deer?

I usually don’t drive at night because I’m worried about deer. Most longtime Adirondack residents share this concern, and it’s one of the reasons you don’t see many cars on the road after sundown. Although my last motorized encounter with a deer was in the middle of a hot humid day, so go figure.

Anyway, the owl got me thinking about the many Owl’s Heads I have known. There’s Owl’s Head Keene, a short popular hike with views of the High Peaks. It looks like something out of Middle Earth from below.

The Owl’s Head in Elizabethtown is referred to as Owl Head Lookout. It’s in the Giant Wilderness Area, a large tract of state land that it’s best not to get lost in.

In Hamilton County there’s an Owl’s Head with a fire tower. Considered one of the “easier” peaks, it’s still not easy, and I climbed it one afternoon with people who were fit and people who were suffering.

Photo: Marc Wanner

The goddess Ishtar was worshipped at one time as an owl goddess. (Her sister Inanna probably started out as some sort of water bird, now extinct.) To me, the sign of the owl is a scintillating reminder of the presence of the Goddess.

A day on Mt Philo

August 5, 2022

Many people think the Adirondacks are lovelier viewed from Vermont. The High Peak mountain ranges are part of the charm of western Vermont.

On a hot day, the short drive up this mountain south of Burlington is just the ticket for relief. Lots of picnic areas near the parking lot. Plus, the view.

A little hazy on this day, from the heat. Vermont is more settled than the Adirondacks, with a lot of farms. The state animal is a domestic beast, the Morgan Horse. I don’t know of any other state that has a domestic animal for a mascot.

Another Goshawk

July 9, 2022

I’ve blogged a few times about my encounters with the Northern Goshawk, a denizen of the mature forests in northern latitudes across North America and Eurasia. For some reason, the Goshawks of North America are particularly aggressive, threatening those who come in vicinity of their nests with screams, dive bombing, and occasional outright attacks.

Photo: Karen Laubenstein, USFWS

I was threatened in 2018 while walking through a popular wooded shortcut, and it was the most frightening experience I’ve had in the woods, my encounters with Mountain Lions and mama bears notwithstanding. I was not attacked, but that mama Goshawk came veerrryy close. I felt traumatized.

I’ve always wondered what I would do if a Goshawk threatened me on a trail where there was no escape route. If I was coming in from the parking lot, I could just retreat immediately. Goshawks are not predators of humans; they’re just hysterically overprotective of their nests. But what if I was on the way out? And there wasn’t a back trail?

They like open places in the deep dark woods.

A week ago, I asked myself this question after hearing what sounded to me like a Goshawk while I was relaxing at Moose Mountian Pond, a place I’ve blogged about before. I thought the sound came from across the pond, but I forgot how tricky sound can be around hills. Also, I had already hiked in, so I would have expected the Goshawk to threaten me earlier. Anyway, I thought of the perfect escape: I could just wait until dark, and then walk out unmolested. I had a headlight, and hawks cannot see in the dark. Perfect.

Photo: Kirill Lapin

To my surprise, a Goshawk did threaten me going out. I dug in my backpack for sunglasses, because then, as in the previous encounter, I was concerned about my eyes. The Goshawk came at me screaming, repeatedly flying closer and closer to my head. Despite my earlier resolution, I didn’t turn back.

In fact, I got a bit angry. I thought to myself: I’m am NOT sitting in the buggy woods next to a buggy pond for the next six hours with nothing to do because of this overreactive feathered bully. I pressed on. I prayed. I began flailing my hiking poles above my head and in front of my face. I walked quickly. The Goshawk continued darting toward me, but she couldn’t or wouldn’t break through the moving poles.

I was surprised at her persistence. It seemed like she followed me for a few hundred yards. Anyway, I scurried a long ways before she desisted. I kept moving quickly, but I didn’t see or hear any other Goshawks on the three miles out. It was the fastest hike out I’ve ever done.

Moose Mountain Pond

But this time I wasn’t traumatized. I won’t say I wasn’t frightened, but I felt okay. I didn’t feel anxious by the time I got to the car. I didn’t have nightmares or flashbacks. I didn’t play the tapes over and over again in my head. I was able to think about other things. There has been no thought of staying indoors, though I have chosen popular trails and will avoid isolated trails in the High Peaks for a few more weeks, until goslings have left the nest.

I have seen and heard probably a half dozen Goshawks in the woods, and most have not threatened me. A few weeks ago, I heard one screaming in the parking lot to the east trail to Giant Mountain, and I saw her flying around, below the canopy, but she didn’t get in my face. A friend of mine said, when I related my story, “Well, you were encroaching on their territory.” No. That’s the kind of thing a city person will say. Just no. I wasn’t bothering the Goshawk in any way, and no other human is bothering their nests, which are high up in the tallest tree. I was on public land, there for all creatures. I stood my ground.

And you follow ’till your sense of which direction completely disappears…

July 2, 2022

Regular readers of my blog may recall that a few weeks ago I mentioned that I had come upon Bobcat scent in the woods – so strong that I postulated I was near a den.

The Bobcat theme remains omnipresent in my life. A few days after that post, I came upon a dead Bobcat in the road as I was off to another hike. Never seen that before. It was a melanistic Bobcat, like many animals in the Adirondacks.

Then, earlier this week, another sign. I hiked to a secluded spot on Lake Champlain, with a beautiful view of Camel’s Hump Mountain in Vermont. A small boat trundled by, and as it passed me the sounds of the music the people were playing drifted back to me: Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat.”

As I explain in Divining with Animal Guides, animal signs come in a variety of ways, not just the physical sighting of the animal. Still, I probably would have thought nothing of the Al Stewart song, though I’ve always liked it, if I hadn’t been getting other signs of Bobcat. Multiple signs, especially close together, are a strong indicator that the animal sign is an important one to consider carefully.

Taking the signs one-by-one, I note that the first has to do with scent: picking up scent, ascertaining that something is close by. Then, my own conjecture that I was near the place where the mother Bobcat lived. Scent is a very primal form of communication. Humans use scent to signal sexual availability (perfume) and for camouflage (the scents that mask odors). In a Bocat’s world, scents announce presence, most of all.

The second Bobcat was dead in the road. Death is about moving beyond physical limits into the spirit world. The mysterious seldom-seen Bobcat is considered to move between worlds anyway, so this accentuated this aspect. The body was in the road – my road – so the intimation was that this encounter with Bobcat energy is a part of the direction my life is taking.

“The Year of the Cat.” This song is about a man who allows the allure of a place and a woman to distract him to the point that he has lost his exit route. He is not a prisoner, exactly: he knows someday he’s “bound to leave her,” but he’s content with the situation for now. This underlines the idea of the Bobcat I saw in the road being about encounters that are unavoidable. And the song came from a boat, another means of travel. Furthermore, the sweet refrain “Year of the Cat” came across water. The Bobcat is one of the felines that likes water, swims well, and even hunts creatures around water holes. Water is symbolic of travel to the spirit world.

Photo: Steve Hillebrand, USFWS

Multiple signs can give information that make interpretation easier. This is why I believe that the best response to an ambiguous sign is to wait for another sign, rather than looking up the meaning in a book. I mean, go ahead and do that, but keep your mind open to other interpretations and be ready to readjust your conclusions.

What are these three Bobcat signs, taken together, telling you?

Clear Skies and Quiet Water

June 24, 2022

Happy Solstice everyone!

A wonderfully cool summer is upon us in the Adirondacks. We’ve had some hot ones in recent years. Yeah, I know: every place is like that now. But this is an area with long very cold winters, so we deal poorly with the hot weather. I encountered the opposite problem when I lived in Tucson: houses were not properly heated for the few months of cold weather.

Hammond Pond seems to be a place I visit a lot, mostly because it’s a short easy trail on the way to Vermont. It was conceived as an accessible trail that disabled people could access via ATV. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been maintained to those standards. It remains a popular trail, however. On this last visit Red-Winged Blackbirds and Pine Warblers filled the air.

My favorite birdsong is the Winter Wren, which is active where I live at the Summer Solstice.

An energetic Winter Wren kept us company on a hike yesterday near Whiteface Mountain. He wouldn’t stop for a minute.

If you’re planning to visit the Adirondacks this summer, the place I recommend is Wilmington, the village at the base of Whiteface Mountain. They have lots of outdoor athletic events, mostly foot racing and cycling. It’s a great place for mountain biking. Trout fishing is popular here, which I don’t partake in, being a vegan. The Adirondack Wildlife Refuge is here, which I find more interesting. Whiteface is the only “high peak” in the Adirondacks that can be accessed by car, although I won’t wear out my brakes on the steep route. I prefer the trail.

Whiteface Mountain

Bobcat Way

June 17, 2022

I lived for a time in the Sonora Desert with a friend who had a swimming pool. It was a great outdoor pool, Olympic size, and it didn’t get the use it probably deserved. One dedicated fan was a bobcat who regularly jumped the concrete walls to drink from the green-blue water. We didn’t think that was good for the cat, so we started replenishing daily the tap water that collected under the outdoor faucet. The honeybees (Africanized, this was southern Arizona) would also drink from this standing water.

Photo: Larry Pace, USFWS

The bobcat seemed to understand doors and windows, and was content to drink with one eye peeled at us while we stared at him through the glass screen door only a few cat lengths away. Doubtless he would have scampered away if we had opened the door. My pet kittycat Misha also liked to watch the bobcat, her tail swishing furiously back and forth as she stood behind the glass door. The bobcat disdainfully ignored her.

I have seen only a few bobcats since moving to the Adirondacks. They are shy creatures, and the cover is better here than in the desert. This week, I was walking through some woods when I caught a familiar and instantly identifiable odor. You see, bobcats really really stink. They spray to mark territory like a domestic cat. The odor was so strong that I wondered if I was near a den or if the area had been marked recently. Perhaps the animal herself was nearby. I wish I’d investigated now, but there were black flies swarming around me, and I was not wearing protective clothing, so I moved on.

Bobcat urine is sold as a rodent repellant and used around farm buildings. I have no idea if it’s ethically sourced, although I would guess it’s not toxic to the environment. The chemical in the urine that rodents avoid has been isolated. I imagine eau d’bobcat pee is not the most appealing of fragrances to anyone.

Photo: Grayson Smith, USFWS

I have become adept in discerning animal scents and can usually distinguish skunk vs. fox vs. coyote vs. wildcat odors. A little known fact about people born in the sign of Aries is that we have a rather developed sense of smell. Ask an Aries about the smells encountered on a recent trip and wait for a detailed response. I’ve known Aries who brag continually about their sense of smell, something people born under other astrological signs think is a strange thing to boast about. One of my favorite books is Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez because of the rich descriptions of smells.

As I explain in Divining with Animal Guides, an animal omen does not necessarily have be a physical sighting. Tracks, sounds, scat, pellets, and scent markings also count, as does an encounter with the name itself, such as finding yourself lost on a road called Bobcat Way. I might begin calling the trail where I met that unmistakable odor Bobcat Way. It’s a sign to begin working magically with the wildcat again.

Why I Came Out of the Woods

June 10, 2022

To my knowledge, Henry David Thoreau never explained why he abandoned his experiment in living primitively. He said he had proven his point after a year, but didn’t leaving the lifestyle make a different point?

I’ve been thinking for years about writing a novel that explores the question of why we leave the woods. To me, why we go in is not that puzzling or profound a question. What brings us out, if we do come out?

I will probably be moving to Saranac Lake in the next month or so. It’s a real city claimed as home by about five thousand people, though many live there a month or two out of the year, if that. I already have a job there. I’ve been asked to leave my current place, for unspecified reasons that are undoubtedly dark and nefarious, and, with the skyrocketing housing prices post-COVID, I can’t find anything in the area. Rich city folks need that second home in the woods. They hardly ever visit it, but they need to know it’s there. The people who clean their houses and mow their lawns then have to drive many miles to work, with gas prices through the roof.

Beware of all situations requiring new clothes, Thoreau admonished in Walden, and that’s the shaky ground I’m treading. I haven’t had a dress-up job in many many years, and the few professional clothes I have left look tacky or don’t fit. I’ve been scouring thrift shops and sales trying to put together a few outfits on the cheap. Stockings, shoes, undershirts, dress pants, raincoat, etc. etc. I’m so out of practice.

I would feel better about moving if I had actually found an apartment that I liked, but that hasn’t happened yet. The job is easy hours and decent wages. Saranac Lake may be a bustling place (at least to me), but it’s close to good hiking, mountain biking, and cross country skiing. I think it will be a good change.