mumbling mountain

comfort from trees

Festival of Trees #62

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Tree Hugger

People I connect with because of Mumbling Mountain often bring my attention to things they feel I should know about. And they are right. The main connections people seem to want me to make have to do with trees, of course. Like, why didn’t I know about the Festival of the Trees?

Terry Gilman is a local poet I have reconnected with because of my locavore’s comfort from trees mission. She tuned me this engaging internet phenomenon. I try to resist the allure of the internet as I feel it keeps me chained to a desk, to the indoors, away from my peace and sense of wonder. But, there you have it- Festival of the Trees, a place of kindred spirits of all sorts.

Terry and I went to the same childhood school, although I was contemporary with her sister, Joan. Our paths have aligned now and then over the years and it is always engaging. I like Terry a lot and she is very supportive. She encouraged me to think about submitting photos or writings to the festival and finally one that inspired me came along. My submission was posted in Festival of Trees #62, this August edition.

How silly of me not to share the Festival with the Mumbling Mountain universe as soon as I became aware. It is a lovely mix of science, poetry, mysticism… the wonder of trees that inspires so many in so many ways.

Please explore.

My American chestnut

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American chestnut at the old homestead

Here’s a picture of the bumper crop of chestnuts, Castanea dentata, on a tree I grew from a seed that germinated in 1999. It is in the yard of the house where I grew up. Note the leaves are a bit like beech. Beech, chestnut and oak all belong to Fagaceae, the beech family. The bark is not unlike some of the oaks.

We all know about the chestnut blight, the fungal disease that obliterated the chestnut tree from our eastern forests. I don’t need to write about that, just google Chestnut blight and start wading through the massive amount of information. We lost an important tree with delicious nuts and beautiful wood.

Occasionally I bump into a survivor, a shoot from a root system that won’t die. I saw some on our ‘Gunks hike that Steve, the Syracuse city arborist rock climber took us on after the NYS Urban and Community Forestry Council bored meeting before the ReLeaf conference. Seriously, Chris, recent president, did a great job of keeping the meeting on task and short, but meetings are meetings.

There are some chestnut trees surviving in the back side of the dunes along eastern Lake Ontario. A wood cutter brought some leaves and a section of a branch to the Sandy Pond/Pulaski, NY field office of The Nature Conservancy when I worked there. Our forester didn’t recognize the tree, had never seen one. It was so wonderful to be able to identify it but so terrible to hear the story. A developer hired the wood cutter to clear some land for yet another development. There was a tree the wood cutter couldn’t identify, 15″ diameter. He was heartbroken to hear what it was. I have seen others just north of Rainbow Shores and by North Pond. There are probably even more.

In 1998 I went to a Natural Areas Association conference in Michigan. I managed to have the winning bid for some American chestnut fruits in the silent auction. I brought home 18 purebred American chestnut seeds from Michigan, or was it Minnesota, and put them in home made pots out in my garden for the winter. The following spring I had 12 little chestnut trees. I gave them all away to people who were interested in caring for them. I gave one to my brother. He planted it in the yard at our parents’ to replace the beautiful sugar maple NiMo convinced them to remove. I was a bit surprised he planted it in the way of the wires but it probably will succumb to the blight anyway. It has poor structure, too.

Codominant stems make bad structure for this American chestnut in my parents' yard

If the tree lives long enough National Grid will prune it or a codominant stem will fail, either will leave a wound that could be the infection site for the fungus.

I harvested some nuts from the tree a few years ago. They were inhabited by a larva of some type. I imagine the joy the squirrels and hungry insects felt when they smelled the ripening nuts.

This year is a great mast year for many tree species in our area. I’m hoping to catch a few of the nuts this year before the squirrels get them all. There may be none next year.

My vigil starts soon.

If you want a nut or two to try growing, let me know.

high peaks saga


Lots of campers on top of Cascade Mt

Did I forget to update? Having a job sure does take time. I did manage to get to the mountains just before I started my new, old job. Sandy and I did Cascade a week or two after my failed attempt. It was great! What a crowded mountain. If you want a solitary experience in the high peaks don’t do Cascade. It was the beginning of summer vacation and we  must have been passed by 50 campers. There were lots of other folks, too. We were going to catch Porter because my knee was doing OK but we blew by the trail and once we realized our error, Sandy wasn’t turning back. I did catch a nice picture of Owls Head, the mountain bump that Bob and I climbed as a consolation for my bad knee bumping me off the Cascade trip. One week I’m taking a picture of Cascade from Owls Head, the next I’m doing the opposite. Life is unpredictable.

That little bump in the middle of the picture is Owls Head, not the one near Malone.

Just a couple of weeks later I had the opportunity to climb 2 peaks in one day. Helen and Margie and I drove up, stayed in a motel and climbed Dial and Nippletop the next day. That was 12 hours, I think. Going up is never a problem for me. Well, not a real problem other than wondering why I want to work so hard to have fun. We caught some glorious views on a beautiful day. The Dial peak has an intimate view of the Great Range, like close neighbors. It is a one side of the mountain view, like a picture window. Nippletop is more removed from the Great Range and looks over streams, mires, hills and haze. The close up view looks down on two more high peaks. This is one tall mountain. It was very crowded with just about 20 people when we arrived, not a big open peak. They all left shortly after we arrived, although I doubt we smelled worse than they did. We hung out for lunch and a nice siesta once we had the place to ourselves.

My feet enjoy the view of Colvin and Blake from the top of Nippletop

The trip down was awfully painful. My knee couldn’t bend without screaming, so it was “down with the bad” the whole way. This is not 50% slower, I think it is 65% slower than a normal descent. Right leg down, meet it with the good leg, right leg down, meet it with the left. The long drops weren’t bad but the rocky spots where you just have to figure it out….. well, my companions were worried we might not get out before dark so they wouldn’t let me tarry along the beautiful Ausable. But, we made it out 2 hours before dark.

Would I do it again? I think I’m stupid enough. The views are so worth the effort.

I should mention I got to dip in a mountain stream in the ‘Gunks during the ReLeaf conference. Cool, fresh water. It made up for the forced march past the many pools along the Ausable. None of my conference colleagues saw me slip out of my clothes and disappear behind the rocks.

the hike that didn’t happen. yet.


More trees for Syracuse

It looks like I have a new job. It’s been a year and a half since I had a permanent, full time job. The thought takes some adjusting too. Once the job starts, though, vacation time won’t accumulate very quickly so I decided I better play hard. Like climb a high peak. I decided Cascade would be good, the easiest of the bunch, so to speak, and maybe good for early season out of shape hikers.

I’ve hiked several of the high peaks in the Adirondacks. It’s been an on-the-back-burner goal to do all 46 of them. Maybe because I am getting closer to decrepitude it is feeling more compelling. Or maybe because running a marathon has been taken off the to do list because of my feet the idea of completing the 46 feels like my best shot at denying aging. Did I mention, though, that I had excruciating pain in my right knee while descending Algonquin last September? I led with my left leg all the way down. Boy, was I lame. Two weeks later, though, I was able to hike Azure Mountain with no pain.

On Father’s Day, the day before we were to go climb Cascade Mountain, Julia, Bob and I went for a couple of loops at the Rand Tract, a favorite place where we walk the Popster and enjoy the finest of Syracuse’s parks, the wooded hill above the duck pond at Webster Pond. There are a couple of steep sections, maybe a tenth of a mile or so for each of them. The whole circuit isn’t much more than a mile. Not strenuous. I wore my crocs in my constant desire to test footwear against my metatarsalgia. BIG mistake, I think. On the way down the first steep section, probably at .8 miles, my knee started killing me. NOOooo!!!! How was I going to make it down 2 miles of Cascade?

Pink ladyslippers in a spruc swamp on the Northville-Lake Placid Trail

Oh well. Bob and I dithered and decided to try a few miles of flat hiking on the Northville-Lake Placid Trail instead. We called our hiking buddies and told them of our change in plans. They decided to go for Cascade anyway, their first high peak. They set out early from Watertown, probably hitting the trail before we were even near Watertown. We had a wonderful walk to the spruce swamp and saw some old favorites along the way including pink ladyslippers and Indian cucumber. The trail had a few ups and downs and my knee gave me no trouble. Well, maybe a touch towards the end, but ibuprofen cured it. We missed our friends for our date for an Ubu at the Lake Placid Brewery’s pub house as they finished well before we came out of the swamp and went home pretty tired and beat up by the mountain, but awed by the view and the experience. How’s that for a hiking date? We all hiked but never saw each other. Everyone was happy, though.

Taken from Owls Head, our consolation peak, Cascade Mountain is behind Bob.

Day 2. After a night of trying to convince myself my knee felt fine and I could do Cascade I talked sense into myself. We climbed Owls Head, a little pimple of a peak downstream from Cascade Mountain. It has nice views at the top, something I crave on my Adirondack trips and a small consolation for missing a high peak peek. No knee trouble on the steep sections of the half mile trail return. My VFFs (Vibram Five Fingers) are very sure footed. I think perhaps my crocs were too loose and my attempts to be sure footed affected my whole body, especially, maybe, my knees.

So, will I attempt Cascade this coming week? Why not?

Everyone we met on our hike was in great spirits. Look at the day! How could it be

Split Rock Falls on the Boquet River

otherwise? As we started down the “mountain” we met a retired teacher who was an insatiable hiker. He had had a heart attack a few years earlier, though, and wasn’t doing high peaks anymore. He was a wealth of information about hiking with limitations. One spot he told us about was Split Rock Falls on the Boquet River on Route 9 just north of the intersection with Route 73 past. We expected a bit of a hike but it was right by the side of the road. We met a few Hasidim in the parking lot. That was a first. The men were in their Brooklyn finest hiking clothes but they were game to see what all the cars were attracted to. The lady of the group ventured to wade at the top of the falls. They were ultimately heading for Lake Placid which made me wonder if there was an iPhone app for kosher restaurants. Of course there was a family and friends playing in the water with colorful tubes and little dogs. It wouldn’t be summer on the river by the road without them.

MacIntyre furnace built in 1854. photo by Bob

On the way home we stopped at Upper Works above Tahawus to show Bob. This abandoned mining community near Newcomb is RICH with history. We met a man who had grown up in Tahawus, he pronounced it somewhat like “Toss”, who had a lot to say about life there as a kid.  His father worked for the mine and retired to South Colton. I thought he had said the  village was moved in the 90s to get at what was supposed to be a very rich vein of titanium but that the vein ran out in a couple of years. He left in 1960 to join the Navy. Other histories I have read since returning home put the Tahawus move in the 60s. I must have confused what he said. Either way, the Upper Works, not a part of the Tahawus settlement, was our destination that day. Many a person, including Theodore Roosevelt, have started their treks to Marcy or other peaks from Upper Works. My Iroquois trip started there. Our friends from Quebec come in numbers enough to have their own sign about using bear cannisters!


There should be a few books about hiking the ‘dacks for people who love to get out and see new places but can’t do the rigorous peaks. Folks need great views and good exercise. Let me know if such guides exist, Please!

dryad saddle

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Easy pickin's

Here is a mushroom for pathetic mushroom hunters. Catch it young, right after a rainy spell, and you can make an omelet or something. If you have some oyster mushrooms you can bulk up the dish with these. Not a lot of flavor but adds some, you know, like tofu. I seem to only find these lately. No morels yet and the season is pretty much done.

Thanks for the picture, Bob.

food blog?

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Every now and then the kitchen action is just too good. This spring has been great. Unemployment hones the foraging skills and our new enterprise at the Regional Market has brought some dynamite flavors into the house.

Bob and his delicious harvest. Note the red trillium at his left shoulder

It all started with the ramps, of course. First was the scramble with ramps, but the best of all was the roasted ramps with the Easter lamb, rampilicious! A little toothwort horseradish set it off. Seems like we had ramps every other night for a while, sometimes with eggs, sometimes with farro, sometimes pasta. Always good. Our preferred roasting is with Stony Brook toasted squash seed oils. How can anything be so good?!

chervil pesto on linguine with carrot salad

The other night I scrounged around for something green to boost our chlorophyll content. Can there be too much green in a meal? Out in the neglected garden I found scallion, garlic greens, parsley and lots of chervil. Don’t ever plant chervil. Or do if you are a lazy gardener and you want green stuff in your food. Chervil has a lovely anise like scent that is SO good with carrots. Bob chopped an apple, grated a couple of carrots and added a generous amount of chives. Then he dressed it so simply and deliciously with toasted Delicata Squash Seed Oil and white balsamic vinegar. Oh my goodness! We had that with linguine dressed in chervil pesto, all those greens from the lazy garden. Toasted pumpkin seeds and Parmesan topped it off. Heaven. Bob and I just basked in flavor.

No morels at our place this spring : (

I was once at the old Split Rock munitions site during morel season. The munitions ruins is a must see. The plant exploded in 1917 and rocked the city of Syracuse. Now it is a herpetologist’s heaven, huge foundations on the dry limestone bedrock of the Split Rock. In the split, a delicious ravine, is a lush forest that is a refuge for a large diversity of migrating birds, rare plants and illicit human activities. These kinds of places are truly refuges, like Rome Sand Plains (don’t feel you need to watch the whole video). I wouldn’t be surprised to find a corpse.

The explosion distributed a shower of ceramic and lead litter. It is always interesting to noodle around in this shrubby edges above the cliff. And that is where I saw a trove of morels interspersed with chunks of lead.

This spring I found no morels, just dryads saddle (I need a picture, Bob!) and oyster mushroom. Did I say just? Dryad may not be morel, but if you catch it young it is good eating and if you have oyster mushrooms to add to the mix, eating is good.

Which brings me to one more culinary delight. We have been selling  Gianforte’s flours at the market, or at least offering it for sale. Do people no longer bake? If time is the problem here is the answer:

Jim Lahey’s no work bread. Check out his Sullivan Street Bakery (Manhattan). I have made many a no knead bread and I like them. They aren’t artisan, but they are delicious hot out of the oven with butter and toasted with peanut butter. Jim Lahey has added a twist to the no knead that is very worthy- the cooking vessel.

it came out of MY oven!

We love sponges and sour doughs for the flavor they develop in the wheat. Time and microbes can fix any bread dough, wine or cider. Lahey’s twist is lovely. Flour, salt and a pinch of yeast mixed with water to make a wet, sticky dough. Put a cover on the bowl and set in in a draft free room temperature spot for 12-18 hours. Never work the dough. Casually but carefully but the dough in a generously floured table and fold the sides of the dough to the middle. In the same deft manner, turn that dough folded side down on a generously floured tea towel (no terry, just smooth weave) and put it to rise a couple hours. Half hour before the baking starts heat the oven to 475.

And here’s the trick. Set the shelf at the bottom third of the oven and put a covered, heavy, dutch oven size pot in to heat with the oven. When the dough is maybe doubled, take the pot out of the oven, unwrap the dough and quickly, casually and gently invert the dough into the pot so the fold seams are now on the top. Put the cover back on the pot and put it all in the oven for 30 minutes. Uncover the bread and let it bake another 15 or 30 minutes. I like to do 15 or 20. Thirty seems to blacken the bottom more than I like.

This is superior home made bread. No work. Just plan ahead the day before to mix the flour, water, salt and yeast.

I’ve made the bread with Judy’s bread flour and with her Red Fife heritage flour. Both are great. The bread flour makes a delicious whole grain bread. What can I say? The staff of life. The red fife makes an amazing “porridge” bread. I love this bread. It is like a cross between porridge and bread. It has a very nice crust – that covered pot creates the moist environment needed for a good bread crust, and the center is like a polenta type porridge bread. You just have to try it.


Time is the breadmaster, humidity the crust.

I flubbed the recipe this last time, but no matter, it is delicious! The dough was so wet it stuck to the towel and the pot was a bit small so the dough flubbed into a amorphic blob. It worked!

And don’t forget to have a glass of kefir mixed with apple cider molasses with a piece of fresh Fife bread and butter before bed.

Can you believe this little dog?


Poppy on a leaning red oak

Dog’s like to walk on logs. Log dogs. This little dog takes it to a new level for me. This red oak is about 15 inches dbh (diameter at breast height) and has been living half a life hung up in the beech trees for the past 15 years. This little dog of ours walked up the tree to the crotch of the beech, about 16 feet above ground level, turned around and came down. Bob caught a picture of her on the way down, she was probably 10 feet above ground level. She does this frequently with trees like this when we walk in the woods, but this is her most daring!

She is my hero these days.

We have had quite an infestation of deer in our woods the past several years. The ocean of trillium we had for all of my lifetime has being browsed away to the point where we were seeing only a few blooms here and there in little refuges under fallen branches and such. The plants were there, but the deer ate the blossoms like candy. The plants, with all this browsing, are getting smaller, though. It has been another of the many sadnesses in my life. Losing elm trees, losing a favorite place to development, the impending emerald ash borer taking away the white and black ashes…..

a poor picture, but there are many trillium

This past year, since my layoff, we have had lots of time to walk in the woods. Between Bob and myself we must have the dog up there 4 or more times a day. The payoff is coming in more than exercise, maybe. I can’t prove it but I like to think all this doggy presence is repelling the deer. This year we have a much greater trillium bloom, not as dense as our former ocean, but it brings me waves of hopefulness.

So, is the bright side to having a needy little shelter dog asking to go out every 2 or 3 hours that the deer can’t spend as much time eating trillium salad?

my heroine. photo by Bob

balsam poplar

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I was up north a couple weeks ago, harvesting balsam poplar buds for the nose balm. Take a look in my skin care products page to read about this wonder salve, my favorite.

I took a few dozen cuttings of balsam poplar last spring and planted them in the garden and along the south edge of my brother’s woods. I can’t find any of the twigs on my brother’s place but the new garden trees survived under the snow, even if beaten down by the weight of it. My plan is to coppice them to keep the buds available. Of course I need to let them grow for a few years before I can stop traveling north in March to harvest buds. I do love that trip.

traditional north country spring ritual

traditional gathering of poplar buds to prepare ointment for respiratory aide

My friend Anne, a famous St Lawrence County botanist, scouted locations for me this year. Anne, Barb and Ted were my assistants. We were a well oiled machine. In less than a half day the four of us harvested at over a half a dozen sites. Last year I had a great site, worked alone for 2 days and didn’t get as much. It was a rescue site so I could really focus on harvest. This year we had to be thinking sustainable harvest. A little here, a little there. Thanks, Anne, for making it all so easy. Ted really got into helping, couldn’t have done it without him. Well, it would have taken lots longer. And without Barb I would have died in a fiery crash on my way back home. Instead we arrived, tired and happy has been botanists.

I have enough buds for this year and next. I prepared the oil and it is in the freezer until I need it. Maybe the price of gas will be $5/gallon by the time I need buds again and I will only have to walk out to the yard to harvest.

Balsam poplar is an early succession tree, one of the pioneers starting the process of re-vegetation in a newly opened site, whether from a landslide, stream bank erosion, gravel pit or abandoned farmland. It is clonal, it spreads by rhizomes. You may think you are standing in a clump of a few trees, but it may well be just one tree, very much like quaking aspen. This is a very northern tree, fast growing. It is often hybridized for biomass projects. It is, by the way, one of the last deciduous trees to drop out before the arctic circle.

Winter leaves, I think.

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Wood frogs love cold water.

Did we ever think it would happen? The endless winter, the endless white depth. We were one of the last to go. I went north, to the St Lawrence River valley. The winters there are cold, long but that is where I heard my first spring peeper…snow all gone and frogs calling. Our swamp was still frozen and buried. But when spring comes, it comes quickly and just a couple night later I heard the rough, raspy sounds of the wood frog orgy set off by the ear splitting  broadcasts of the spring peepers. If only I could use a cell phone video on this site, not compatible, but the recording is pure spring frogs calling their desires. The wood frogs awake, mate and move on very quickly once the ice starts to melt. Truly their mating season is a spring ephemeral.


leeks and scarlet cup

Rhubarb, new barb, was the first color I saw. Scarlet cups, too. They stand out in the woods near rotting logs now while all the leaves are matted on the forest floor. The blue cohosh and the young spring leeks… heady stuff for the like of us who have been navigating snow packed paths in the woods for months. We broke loose from the snow but spring is coming slow. The blood root buds have been standing like candle flames. One warm day and they will bloom and drop their petals. Miss one day of walking in the woods and you could miss the whole show.

yin and yang

morning after the spring rain

moss sporangia under maples

The snow has flattened everything. That is how we know that the brown landscape is not November. The snow rots. The light is softer , more hopeful, in the morning, I think. The days are much longer than November. Otherwise, the succession of cold, rainy days and scattered flakes of precipitation could be hard to look beyond. It is so much fun to move around and marvel at the life expanding with each day. Those bloodroot are waiting for their day. While I wait I enjoy what I can, like the sun on the water soaked trees after a night of frog choking rain.

parallel worlds

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Nicholas Lisi/The Post-Standard A bald eagle flies over Onondaga Lake near Carousel Center mall last January.

I missed the bald eagles wintering at our sewage treatment plant. Bad timing. They have been coming for a couple of years, drawn to fish in the open water warmed by the outflow from the plant. Some people are thrilled that the lake can support fish that can support them, some are worried that the fish will carry too heavy a burden of the lake’s pollutions. I think there were 22 eagles this year!

Luckily I did see eagles this winter. The day we went to look at old growth trees on Lakeview Wildlife Management Area we pulled up to park and there were 2 eagles soaring overhead. I had been startled by an eagle there once a few years ago while kayaking. It burst out of a crack willow on the bank as I paddled by. What a thrill!

So our wintering  eagles are best viewed from the parking lot of our infamous Carousel Mall (the mall that can’t get it’s green on). About a month ago I had to visit the mall, a rare event. My laptop was acting up and the Mac Store is at the mall. My last mall visit was to purchase the offending computer and now I had to return. I hung around the lot for a while but saw no eagles.

I went inside and they looked over my computer. When it was all fixed I asked the tech if he had seen the eagles. Silly me. The rock group Eagles or the Philadelphia Eagles? He had a puzzled look and asked for clarification. I said “the bald eagles, the ones living on the lake outside! Really?! he exclaimed. He asked the tech next to him if he knew there were a couple dozen bald eagles outside. No Way!! was the response. For a month these eagles had been making headlines in our print media and our newspaper’s website. Every day these guys came to work they could have looked for the eagles.

Turn off your computers, guys, and go outside!