Dimming the Lights
Published on November 14, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about how some towns and cities are removing streetlights to save money, and how this could have environmental benefits as well.

Here's an excerpt:

"I like the fact that my own street has no lights. I like being able to track the seasonal changes in the night stars, see planets and enjoy the phases of the moon. I like the way some nights are darker than others, that I can see the cloudy path of the Milky Way on a cold, clear winter night, or the occasional aurora."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Grousing About Cold
Published on November 9, 2011 by Sara Foss

In her weekly column Greenpoint, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about the onset of the cold season.

Here's an excerpt:

"The Floridian in my house is grousing about the weather.

It’s nothing new, and after 26 years of marriage I’m pretty used to it. It turns cold, he complains. It turns colder, he gets mad. It turns colder still, he rages. Everything turns to ice, he goes fishing.

There are moments, sometimes, when he can enjoy a bracing walk or a beautiful snowfall. But for the most part, the period between frosty mornings and ice fishing weather is just hard on him. And no matter when the cold weather settles in for good, we never seem to be prepared for it."

Click here to read the whole thing.

The Road Not Taken
Published on November 1, 2011 by Sara Foss

In her weekly column Greenpoint, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about the discoveries to be made by changing course every once in a while.

Here's an excerpt:

"When I moved to my town 20-some years ago, there was a welcoming sign as you crossed the river and entered town, with a well-known quote from Robert Frost:

'Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
'I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.'

Is this the most quoted piece of poetry in the country? Maybe, and at first it seemed a little hokey to us, unoriginal. But the thing about Frost is that he writes what is true. And soon enough we liked that our town had adopted Frost. It was a nice motto for a fairly remote town, making residents feel not lost or lonely, but purposeful in their choice of a hometown, of a region of trees and rivers, lakes and mountains."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Weather, By the Hour
Published on November 1, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about my obsession with the hour-by-hour forecast.

Here's an excerpt:

"Whenever there’s rain or snow in the forecast, I check the weather forecast. I especially like to check the hour-by-hour summary, which provides detailed information on exactly when it’s supposed to snow or rain. That way, if I plan to go hiking, I’ll know whether it’s going to rain all day or from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m., and then again from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Recently, I found myself studying the hour-by-hour page in the days leading up to a long-awaited hike.

'It’s supposed to rain on Saturday,' my friend and hiking companion said.

'Yeah,' I said, 'but only at noon, and then at 4 p.m.'

'What are you looking at?' my friend asked.

'The hour-by-hour,' I said, and explained how to find it.

My friend spent a few minutes studying the hour-by-hour. Then she said, 'This is ridiculous.'"

Click here to read the whole thing.

The Freak Storm
Published on October 30, 2011 by Sara Foss

We didn't get much snow in downtown Albany, so today I decided to go look for some.

I drove out to the Hyuck Preserve in Renselaerville, about 40 minutes away, with my hiking boots, ski poles and snow shoes. I wasn't sure what I would encounter - a foot of snow, or just a few inches. But I wanted to be on the safe side.

The Hyuck is a lovely perserve, with a trail around a lake and a pretty impressive waterfall in the Renselaerville Falls. I've only been out there once before, with a friend who illegally scattered her grandfather's ashes there. It was quiet when I arrived at the preserve, but it was clear other people had been there: There were footprints in the snow, and when I got to the footbridge over the river, which warned visitors not to cross, I could see that others had ignored the sign and climbed right over the wooden barrier and continued along their way. I decided to do the same thing, and was treated to a delightful walk.

The falls were impressive, and I also really enjoyed the austere view of the lake, which seemed unusually silent and stark right before dusk. I would have walked for a while longer, but I couldn't find an easy crossing at the river - the water was high, and the rocks looked too slick - and turned back. By then, the sun was descending, and I was feeling chilled. But I also felt invigorated. All weekend, I'd tried and failed to drag myself out of my apartment, and once I finally made it outside, I realized how much I needed some fresh air.

So I enjoyed the freak October snowstorm. But I hope it warms up, the snow melts, and we don't have anymore until the end of November. At the earliest. Also, I'm going to the British Virgin Islands this week, and the trip can't come soon enough.

Winter Nesting
Published on October 25, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about how humans and animals alike are preparing for winter.

Here's an excerpt:

"We brought a couple of fistfuls of hay inside for the rabbit last week, and instead of eating it she spent about 15 minutes constructing a tunnel to sit inside of.

My son laughed. 'Look at Willa! She looks just like Tulip!'

Tulip is the little pig who lives in a room off the chicken coop. In the fall and winter she constructs handsome tunnels out of straw to sleep in, and when she wanders outside or into the coop’s vestibule she generally has pieces of straw clinging to her back. Often she has a young hen standing on her back too, but that happens year-round. She is a comfortable pig.

And she keeps comfortable even in the winter, which she officially hates, by making her straw nests to keep out the chill.

The rabbit lives inside so she doesn’t really need a nest or a tunnel. And soon after she made one, she started eating it.

But winter is coming and the outdoor animals know it. The ox is getting his winter coat, the outdoor cat is bulking up. The chipmunks and red squirrels are digging holes into the feed pumpkins and taking out the seeds to store in some crevice somewhere for winter eating.

We’re hoarding food, too: a freezer full of summer vegetables, shelves crammed with jars of jellies and tomatoes and pickled vegetables, baskets of winter squash, onions and garlic, bags of potatoes.

Outside with the squirrels is the pile of feed pumpkins — most of them bruised, nonsaleable specimens from a friend’s farm — meant for the ox and chickens and pig to eat. Once Halloween passes, that pile will get even bigger, with leftover squashes, gourds and pumpkins from a couple of farm stands, and we’ll keep chopping them up for feed even after they freeze.

The animals are eating more now, and we’re adding extra layers of straw or pine shavings for their bedding and sealing cracks in the doors and walls of the sheds they live in.

Keeping fed and keeping warm through the winter is something people and animals have worried about for as long as there’s been winter."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Walking in the Dark
Published on October 17, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes in her weekly column Greenpoint about some of the sounds she's heard, and some of the wildlife she's detected, while walking her dogs in the very early morning.

Here's an excerpt:

"I like to walk. You might say I need to walk. And if I don’t get a good long walk in every week, preferably one that takes me deep into the woods or up a mountain, I get cranky.

Very cranky. You can ask my kids.

Part of my recent crankiness is that I haven’t been hiking in about six weeks as family obligations, most of them involving a car, have encroached on all of my time away from work. So I’ve been trying to make the most of my morning dog-related escapades, getting my walks in half-hour increments.

I walk two dogs, a little rat terrier who arrived a few years ago and a larger yellow Lab-type that showed up almost five months ago. Both were dumps, dropped off to wander on the roads near us by people who wouldn’t or couldn’t keep them any longer.

The large dog inexplicably continues to live at our house despite having twice failed the Good Dog Test, and endears herself to us by moving our shoes around the house during the day and climbing onto the bed to snuggle at night. Also she sings, which is the only reason our daughter loves her.

I appreciate the fact that she’s forced me to take a brisk walk every morning, although I don’t appreciate the fact that she is not exactly a model walker. Or that the little dog eggs her on to badness by jumping and barking at any moving thing the big dog might have missed jumping and barking at.

Throughout the summer the three of us walked two or three miles every morning, generally starting a little before 6. After the walk, I’d figure their general good-to-badness ratio, based upon how many squirrels they had yanked my arm to chase, and how loud the barking was.

Since school started, the walk has moved to 5 a.m., and we can’t go as far. Three miles have become one, but the biggest change is that we’re walking in the dark. Some mornings are darker than others, if there’s no moon or an overcast sky, or both."

Click here to read the entire piece.


Cool Dolphin Footage
Published on October 16, 2011 by Sara Foss

Click here to check out this awesome video of a super pod of dolphins.

Potato Season
Published on October 10, 2011 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about "potato season" in her weekly column Greenpoint.

Here's an excerpt:

"It’s fall now, which means potato season. Our late potatoes are still in the ground but we’ll be digging them out soon, drying them enough to shake the dirt off, then storing them in the basement to eat through the winter.

Potatoes grow well around here, and in a lot of the world. Originally from the Andes, they were brought to Europe and to Africa by explorers and colonists. They’ve become staples wherever they are grown: North America, Asia, the Baltic states.

My friend Romas is of mixed Baltic heritage — his mother is from the part of Lithuania where they grow potatoes, and his father is from the part of Lithuania where they grow wheat.

Or maybe it’s the other way around.

Anyway, Romas reports that growing up he heard the wheat-parent’s people saying: 'Any idiot can grow potatoes. It takes a real farmer to grow wheat.' And, as you might suspect, the potato-parent’s people had a different way of putting it: 'Any idiot can grow wheat. It takes a real farmer to grow potatoes.'

With a cultural rift like that, it’s a wonder his parents ever met. Or maybe that’s why they had to move to Cleveland, where they grow neither wheat nor potatoes.

View From Hadley Mountain
Published on October 9, 2011 by Sara Foss


Columbus Day Weekend

Fall Foliage
Published on October 5, 2011 by Sara Foss

Here are 50 awesome fall foliage photographs from all over the country.

Have You Seen the Amazing Two-Faced Cat?
Published on September 30, 2011 by Sara Foss

Seriously, this is amazing.

Here's an excerpt:

"Frank and Louie the cat was born with two faces, two mouths, two noses, three eyes — and lots of doubts about his future.

Now, 12 years after Marty Stevens rescued him from being euthanized because of his condition, the exotic blue-eyed rag doll cat is not only thriving, but has also made it into the 2012 edition of Guinness World Records as the longest-surviving member of a group known as Janus cats, named for a Roman god with two faces.

'Every day is kind of a blessing; being 12 and normal life expectancy when they have this condition is one to four days,' Stevens said, stroking Frank and Louie's soft fur as he sat on her lap purring. 'So, he's ahead of the game; every day I just thank God I still have him.'

Frank and Louie's breeder had taken him to the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, where Stevens was working at the time, to be euthanized when he was just a day old. Stevens offered to take him home, but experts told her not to get her hopes up.

Janus cats almost never survive, and most have congenital defects, including a cleft palate that makes it difficult for them to nurse and often causes them to slowly starve or get milk in their lungs and die of pneumonia. The condition is the result of a genetic defect that triggers excessive production of a certain kind of protein."

Still Frost Free
Published on September 26, 2011 by Sara Foss

In her column Greenpoint, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about the change of seasons, and how fortunate we've been not to have a frost.

Here's an excerpt:

"Late September and we’ve avoided frost so far. Since our first frost date — the earliest we can expect a freeze to wipe out the tender plants in our vegetable garden — is Sept. 6, every night that it doesn’t freeze is like a gift. One more day of summer.

We had a few frost warnings a couple of weeks ago, so we picked everything we could just in case. I came home from work one Friday and found the kids — my own two and that teen boy who tends to stand right next to my daughter whenever possible — had filled every available container with vegetables and herbs.

There were two willow laundry baskets of Roma and beefsteak tomatoes, a picnic basket full of cherry and grape tomatoes, a big bowl of green peppers. That was because all the bushel and half-bushel baskets were already filled, with cucumbers, cantaloupes, squash and basil. The back seat of the station wagon is full of watermelons.

I spend the weekend making pesto and salsa, and we had melon with just about every meal. I dried sage and mint in the warming oven of the wood stove, and froze another batch of chard.

But there was no frost, so we’re still picking and the plants are still producing. There’ll be another round of string beans, and maybe enough basil for another batch of pesto before frost. And more cucumber salads."

Goats In Trees
Published on September 26, 2011 by Sara Foss

Did you know that in Morocco there are tree-climbing goats? And that they eat the berries of the Argan tree? And that their droppings contain seed kernels that local farmers grind into an oil that is used in cooking and cosmetics? No? Well, you should click here and look at some pictures of tree-climbing goats, then. Seriously. It will be worth your time.


The Wrong Way to Garden
Published on September 25, 2011 by guest author: Tatiana Zarnowski

I really do everything wrong when I garden.

I think this as I carry a paper bag out for tomato-picking the morning after a hard rain.

"A paper bag, Tatiana?" I thought once I got outside. "Seriously?"

The 6-by-3-foot raised bed I commandeered from my landlord is home to a couple of tomato plants, some herbs and a few zinnias. All are doing well, though I can barely see them through the weeds.

Yes, in addition to picking a type of bag that will disintegrate in moisture, I almost never weed. Also, I start plants indoors too late in the spring for them to reach their full harvest potential before frost. And after the first year where my staked-up tomatoes fell back down into a tangled mass on the ground, I never stake tomatoes.

These habits are all gardening no-no's, and sometimes I feel vaguely ashamed of my "crops," because I have several friends (and many family members) who do gardening the "right" way.




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