Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Early Winter

Early Winterscape in Skaneateles

View of Skaneateles Lake looking south from boat launch.
A colleague who lives in another country asked me to take pictures for his collection.  It seems where he lives in the UK they have not had any snow yet.  While, here in the Finger Lakes we were 'blessed' with an early snow that lasted a few days, although as I write this, it is already melting.  When it snows here, the skies are  gloomy, filled with moisture, and I was having a hard time getting just the right shots for my friend at dawn - which is what he requested.  For three days in a row during the Thanksgiving break I woke each morning at the required time for this season of the year    (7 am) and it was always overcast.

One morning I got lucky enough to capture the sun rising in the gloom, and paid for it with a nasty fall on the ice as I took a picture from the town of Skaneateles' boat launch.

Then it happened.  The perfect-picture-taking-dawn.  I arose at 7 am and the sun was rising with just wisps of clouds in the sky, and magically, it had also snowed overnight.  I grabbed my coffee, my camera and my boots and waded through the newly fallen snow in the farms fields at the end of my road.  And I was rewarded with crystal images.
Sun rising on farm field of corn stalks.

So, it was worth it - waiting - for the right moment in time to take the pictures that would capture the beauty of this landscape that I live in; that shows itself when it wants, not when you need it to.  A lesson well worth remembering when the days get shorter and the darkness sets in. A lesson to keep in mind in general.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Beaver dam at Baltimore Woods
It's not easy being a beaver (Castor canadensis).  A beaver is a squatter by all rights, and there are not many places left where he can make his home without being evicted.  But there are a few places still left, protected places, that allow a beaver and his family to do what they innately need to do: dam a river or stream, gnaw away and knock down trees so they can build a dam and den.  I went to visit such a place in Baltimore Woods this past week with my students.  Baltimore Woods is a protected property, 182 acres of land open to the public and and owned by the Central New York Land Trust.   Because it is protected, so are the flora and fauna residing there.  Baltimore Brook, a meandering stream, works its way through the property and provides the perfect backdrop for beaver life.

What made the field trip with my students so worthwhile is that we were able to view a beaver meadow -- the remnants of an abandoned beaver dam -- and just downstream from there a newly built beaver pond. It was a perfect lesson in succession, the changes in a landscape over time due to physical or biological interventions.  In this case, the beaver is the intervener.

Beavers set up home once they build their dam and ensure a pond environment that will protect them over the winter months and provide them with a place to store their cache of twigs for food.  After the dam is built they work on building a home where they can raise their kits, or litter of young.  After a few years if the host of trees available for consumption dwindles they move on to a new site downstream, like they have done at Baltimore Woods.

What they leave behind is a legacy of a meadow, and a new generation of plants that would have never appeared if it hadn't been for their work.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

End of Summer

It is Labor Day weekend in the Finger Lakes.  This time of year is bittersweet for me.  Being a professor at a college I look forward to starting classes and seeing all of the new faces at school.  The fall also brings spectacular colors as the leaves on the trees change color and the apples are picked and eaten.

This summer was special for me.  I took off from work, and, among other ventures, spent the summer looking for invasive aquatic plants in the lake.  My search ended this weekend when, my husband and I canoed the southern end of Skaneateles Lake looking in the stream inlets for Hydrilla, an invasive species recently discovered in Cayuga Lake.  This plant is an aggressive invader that chokes out other native species and spreads prolifically.

We didn't find any Hydrilla but we did see a Bald Eagle perched on a tree branch, oblivious to the jet skis that were motoring all about.  Then, suddenly, we heard what sounded like a waterfall.  We stopped to pinpoint the noise and noticed that across the lake a rain shower was heading right towards us.  We quickly paddled under the nearest Willow tree for cover, but were drenched anyway.

Summer in Upstate New York is ephemeral, and pretty; I hate to see it end.

I also spent weeks swimming with friends.  We would meet in the morning and swim a 1/2 mile- 1 mile a couple of times a week in the lake.  We got to know all of the moods of the water.  I have done this training for the past eight years.  Each year we mark the passage of summer by swimming a mile with over 200 other people in the annual Skanraces - Escape from the Judge - race event.  This morning as we jumped off the Judge Ben Wiles at 8 am.  The skies were cloudy, the water calm. The only waves were those stirred up by the hundreds of swimmers.  I thought about how all of the swimming and training over the summer pays off, and what a joy to finally be done with it.  Now though, I sit and think, I wouldn't mind it if summer lasted a bit longer.  I am not ready to let it go.

This summer, I also accomplished something I always wanted to do: I wrote a book. It is set in the Finger Lakes, a coming of age story about a young woman (Emalee Rawlings) who, after the tragic death of her parents in an apparent murder/suicide, navigates her way through adolescence to adulthood.  What she experiences is something we all know well, that people and places we encounter throughout life change the way we think.   The book follows Emalee from her home in Canandiagua Lake, to college at Hobart and William Smith on Seneca Lake, and finally to the wilderness of Algonquin Provincial park in Canada.   It is a testament to the beauty of wild places and the importance of protecting them.  My goal in writing the book was to educate and entertain. It is appropriately enough called, 'Ephemeral Summer'.  Look for it next spring, I can't wait until until then.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Mayfly Hatch

The mayflies (Ephemeroptera) are out.  I was watching them the other night by the lake.  They have recently hatched after spending their young lives under water as nymphs.  When they first come to the surface, they have wings but do not fly yet, they are commonly called duns by fishermen, this is their subimago state.  They shed one last time and can use their wings to fly,  the imago state, which means they are ready to mate.   Mayfly nymphs have gills to breath under water, and can take up to a year to go through what is called incomplete metamorphosis as they molt their exoskeletons.  This may happen 20-40 times depending on the species.

These episodes of life stages are called instars.  After the last instar, they climb out of the water and rest until they complete their final molt and begin to fly.  At this last stage of their life they do not have mouth parts, their only purpose is to mate.  They do this in a courtship dance above the water.

The males swing up and down in the air, looking for a mate.

I saw several mating in the air, clinging to each other in flight.  After this ritual, the males go off to the nearest tree limb, lamppost or rock and die.  The females go to the water to lay their eggs and then die on the surface.  On the lake it looks like a soft rain is falling when you watch hundreds of the female mayflies dipping their bottoms where the eggs are stored, into the water.

Mayflies need clean, well oxygenated water to survive their youth.  You find them around lakes and streams where the water is not polluted.  They thrive around Skaneateles Lake and are a treasure to see each year.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Growing Vegtables in the Winter

I work at a community college in the Finger Lakes: Cayuga Community College.  We have two campuses, one in Auburn, NY and one in Fulton NY.  Both experience heavy snowfall,  and lately, it has been very cold.  But while the temperature outside hit 9 degrees Fahrenheit last week, the temperature inside our High Tunnel Greenhouse was a balmy 40 degrees.  The soil was 38 degrees.  This greenhouse, built with grant funds from the Walmart Corporation, is a collaborative project the college is undertaking with a local agency called the Cayuga/Seneca Action Agency.  The food grown in the greenhouse will be donated to a local food pantry.  We are growing shallots, garlic, and bok choy and they are sprouting!  Here is a picture taken in January 2013.