Spring 2013 – Early April

Sing along: “It’s beginning to look a lot like April!”

If you don’t know the tune, write me and ask for it.  Just kidding.  Here it is, as written and sung by the great Johnny Mathis (biography):

If your brain is racked anything like mine, that song will be stuck in your head the rest of the day.  So, in a sense, we will be singing along together.  Just remember to use the word April.

Anyone living south of our Clinton County, New York (in the far northeast corner of the state, bordering Vermont and Canada) may enjoy seeing the still somewhat wintry nature of early-to-mid April here.  Folks north of here, go ahead and laugh, especially Alaskans, Siberians, Antarcticans (just north of the south pole), etc.

For reference, in case there is someone reading this not acquainted with Clinton County, NY:

Also in our geography lesson today, that’s “the other Great Lake” on Clinton County’s east coast, Lake Champlain, part of the Adirondack Coast, named for our Adirondack Mountain Region (see also Adirondack Mountain Club).

Moving on from geography to cryptozoology, the 400-foot-deep lake is also home to a 600-year-old sea monster, known to the Abenaki Indians as Tatoskok.  While fighting the Iroquois on the shore of the lake, the great French explorer Samuel de Champlain saw the creature and declared, “Mon Dieu!  Kunta Kinte, I found you!” (A line later used in an unrelated movie scene.)  Today, the giant serpent (actually a plesiosaur), our local version of the Loch Ness Monster, has been co-opted for economic purposes, like almost everything, a sort of mascot of local chambers of commerce, especially in the village of Port Henry.  Its name is now Champ.  Our local economy does need all the help it can get, even from dinosaurs.

And finally, what you’ve all been biting your nails waiting for: what April looked like at Balsamea Headquarters (it gets better AFTER this slideshow):

April 4, 2013:

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I’m trying to use the camera to keep a chronological record of the things spring brings.  It means carrying the camera with me on our thrice-daily forest saunters (and while doing trail mending, trail tending, and trail bending, one of my bigger hobbies, a critical factor in being The Balsamean).  Sometimes I don’t carry it, especially after dark.  Some forest saunters should be just walks for the sake of walking in the woods.

So … watching for the first thing to come out of spring — or the first one I noticed — as the snow receded, the bright red heads of my favorite lichen showed up.  It’s not that they “bloom” in spring.  They were red all winter.  But they were the first brightly colored thing revealed by the snow’s retreat.  I think that these pictures of our British Soldier Lichens (Cladonia cristatella), from April 15 and 18, are better than my old ones from May 2012, published here in British Soldiers in Balsamea Woods! (go there to learn about these lichens).

These photos are from the same location as the old May 2012 shots: one of our woods openings called Five Stump Skypatch.  There are seven stumps, but only five big, obvious ones, each blanketed with lichen, moss, tiny balsam fir seedlings, and a billion microscopic things I don’t know about.  Skypatch is our name for an opening in the woods, where the sky is a dominant feature of the place, and one may get a sunburn, unlike the generally dense shading of our woods.

(Click a pic to see them bigger.)

It’s like going to another planet, ain’t it?  Why do people want to pay a quarter million dollars for a ride on Virgin Air’s space shuttle, when entire alien worlds are right here for free at Balsamea?  They’ve got to be out of their minds.  Maybe it’s better they want to leave the planet.

All our first three spring show stoppers are deer food: lichen, maple, and pussy willow.  The first “normal” plants to flower, that is, plants with shoots and leaves, were sugar maple and red maple trees, one with a bird’s nest:

Now for the second (and even more fun) plant to “flower” (if these are actually flowers), the mysterious pussy willow.  It took about 200 shots to get this handful of pictures that were not too bad.  So applause WILL be appreciated.  This is a mix of shots from April 14, 18 and May 1.  See if you can guess which ones were from May 1.  In one shot, you can see where a deer (presumably … I suppose it could have been a moose or a turkey or a porcupine) chomped off a bud.

(Click it to dig it.)

No pussies were injured in any manner whatsoever in the making of these pictures.  However, in one of these pictures you can see where a stem ends abruptly where a deer (presumably) bit off a bud.  This browse damage has frustrated the growth of this tree all its life.  This year I pruned it and put it under the protection of a wildlife net, along with several other trees I now protect from the deer.  Our deer overpopulation has a major impact on the progression of this forest, as with effects of all human presence (in this case our removal of big predator animals).  This is human habitat now, as much as that of any other native animal.

The miracle of digital photography.  Imagine having to pay for 200 Kodak prints to find a handful of nice ones?  Barbaric!  Kodak went bankrupt, but we got the blogosphere instead.  My sympathies — seriously — to all my former neighbors in Rochester suffering the demise of their iconic employer.  (The company is resurrecting in a much smaller incarnation.)

And, thanks to the magic of mouse-driven zoom and crop, I can see things in these natural wonders that completely escape my naked eye.  I mean, did you ever see a pussy willow bloom a foot wide?  I shrunk these a little to fit in one computer view without scrolling around in it, but you get what I mean.

One of our most numerous wildflower is the tiny violet.  There are hundreds of clusters of these scattered here and there throughout our 19 acres.  This year there are more violets than ever (as with our bursting population of trout lily, but that’s for another post).  These pictures are from May 5, 2012, because I have so many nice violet pictures I didn’t bother taking any this year … except one, just to document when Balsamea first presented them to us, magically on May 5, 2013.

First, a little aside (as are most things I say):  As I work with these pictures, thinking about those times I spent focusing my attention on these wonders of nature, learning about them, sharing them with you, I realize how blessed I am to have such abundance right outside my door.  It’s more than that.  It is medicine to my mind and body.  I am a better person because of the time I spend immersed in the experience of being welcomed as a fellow sylvan among all these others, who tend to my soul as they do, cultivating The Balsamean.

I’ve been personally acquainted with some people of the type, so I guess there may be some reading this, who see this kind of statement and the feelings in it as silliness.  Emotional bubblegum.  Self-serving drama.  They won’t say it, probably not even in their own minds, not per se, but their perception of it leans toward, “Be a real man, would you?”

I’ve never been closer to a truer me.  My immersion in Balsamea has gone a long way toward washing away the paint, putty, pretense and pain of too often suppressing, ignoring, neglecting or abusing this one laying on the ground trying to get a good picture of a violet, and later, in a moment like this, having tears running down his cheeks because of realizing how blessed he is, and not such a bad guy when he is most fully living the life of The Balsamean, which includes making these scribblements, even if nobody reads them.

So, thank you, violets, and all the other Balsameans here before I arrived, before they adopted me as their own.

April is always loaded with surprises.  I recall a mid-April day years ago that came with a foot of snow, and we almost always have some snow in April.  Sometimes we get slammed with a heat wave (to me that means anything over 70 degrees in spring, over 80 in summer, 30 in winter … I get depressed when it’s over 30 in winter … Fahrenheit, that is).

Here’s a pleasant surprise we found on our morning walk this past April 12: iced balsam fir, that boreal tree (Abies balsamea) for which Balsamea is named …

I hope you enjoyed this little virtual visit to April in Balsamea.  If not, I don’t know what’s wrong with you.

I invited an overstressed, unemployed, completely broke, downtrodden person to an all-expense-paid trip to Balsamea for as long as he wanted this spring, including room and board, and … would you believe it? … he decided to get a job instead!  People are nuts.

This is the beginning of my Spring 2013 series.  More to come.

I often question why the heck I feel compelled to record these events and processes in nature, then scribble about them to an almost entirely anonymous audience.  I can’t help it.  It’s bred into being The Balsamean.  It’s a great hobby, and I learn a lot, and have fun doing it.  This self-questioning continues, but I’m moving toward not troubling myself with “the why of it,” and just be it.  Thanks for being an audience for my self-entertainment.  It’s just not the same as writing in a journal notebook.  An audience makes it another kind of scribblement, probably a better kind.

Was it good for you?

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes  –Marcel Proust


Related article:

Colouring the Landscape by Sarah Boon, in her blog, Watershed Moments: Thoughts from the Hydrosphere.  Quote: “I’ve been trying to follow Proust’s advice, renewing my gaze to find out what I’m missing. What I’ve discovered are lichens …” and she made terrific photos.  Ms. Boon is “rediscovering [her] writing and editing roots after 13 years primarily as an environmental scientist,” and she is “a member of the Canadian Science Writers Association and The Explorer’s Club, and [has] been nominated to be a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Societyand she is an inspiration.

A word about Balsamea’s snowshoe paths

Actually, it’s around 1058 words.

Originally I intended to let the snowshoe path pictures in my previous blog post speak for themselves.  Today, Pyrrhite’s comment on that post got me wondering about what makes Balsamea’s snowshoe paths so attractive to me that I popped off more than 200 snapshots hoping to get lucky in the handful I found worth posting here.

In pithy Pyrrhite style, I read, “I love snowshoe trails. Nothing much is quite as compelling.”  Why are they so compelling?  Okay, Py, you pulled the cord to muse up a scribblement.  Let’s see if I have the gas to shoot through it quickly, because I am supposed to be doing something else.  I may be a scribblement addict, and you an enabler.

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Way – Scribblement 20121222

Saturday, December 22, 2012.  The second day of winter.  I meant to write something yesterday, to celebrate winter solstice, but I exhausted myself out in the woods being The Balsamean, celebrating for real, not just on paper.  Er … I mean, in pixels.  (That’s trite, isn’t it?)

If ever I lose the ability to walk in the woods as much as I do, maybe I would use the time to write a book (about what, I have no idea).  Unfortunately, most of my best inspiration arises while walking in the woods, the flow of creativity juices increasing proportionate to the time spent walking.  No walking, no writing.

Here on the second day of Winter 2012-13, finally we have some genuine winter weather.  On our morning walk, we had a beautiful 25 degrees and steadily falling snow, adding to the half-melted and re-frozen crunch-bed of snow underfoot.

Viewed from the window in front of me as I scribble, the snow is not falling so much as driven horizontally by strong winds roaring in from the west.  Deep in the woods, where the wind lives mainly in the treetops, the snow floated peacefully down to me during our morning walk.  (By the way, proper making of scribblements at Balsamea is with a window in front of you, if not outdoors.)

This morning, in addition to meandering through some passes and paths, Buddy took me on our usual walk around Balsamea’s perimeter trails.  He tends to want to go clockwise, beginning on Balsamea Way, to the west terminus of Stumpy Way, then Stumpy to the northeast half of Kiefer Loop, then across the east side of Beech Loop, around the southeast corner of Birdsong Loop, and back to the house via Whitetail Way.  Today we also ambled through part of Aranyaka Maze.  We walked about half of the entire trail network.

I cleaned yesterday’s crusty, icy accumulation off all the fireplace and woodpile covers.  This is a routine activity on every walk after snow.  We have large rock fireplaces (that’s large fireplaces made with large rocks) at five locations: Camp Balsamea, Turkeyfoot, Tettegouche, Silviden and Kieferhaven.  This year I made permanent covers for the fireplaces, to keep snow and ice out of them (I use all of them year-round).

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A Word About Scribblement

Journaling in the camper at Balsamea

For decades I called the dictionary my favorite book, until Wiktionary, which I now adore as much.  Just the same, I’m keeping my 1995 Webster’s Collegiate 10th Ed. and my 1962 Roget’s Thesaurus 3rd Ed.  I may need a word when the lights are out, or when the satellite web connection goes away at a critical moment, or when unregulated hypergobalcapitalizm (masquerading as democracy) gets lethal immunodeficiency, and the web collapses.

You may have noticed the tagline on this blog, Scribblements from Balsamea.  I started using scribblement in 2008 to describe a two-year-long series of many hand-written long letters, accompanied by many photographs, usually with captions written on the backs — on the originals and six copies — and lovingly mailed to a handful of victims.  I called these scribblements The Balsamea Letters.    .

In my mind, they were like scribbling because they had little purpose or value but to satisfy my need to write them.  They also freely rambled, because I gave them permission.  Still, they were more than scribbling, firmer, meant to last.  The -ment suffix fit nicely, a baggy firmament.

That period, May 2008 – June 2010, was my Thoreauvian period: living off-the-grid, no electricity, no running water, no phone, no pool, one 70-pound pet.  I suppose that this unusual lifestyle choice, being largely the cause of the letters, could give the letters more meaning than if I wrote them from a walk-up flat in the burbs, on a computer, with C-SPAN on the tube and a frozen pizza in the oven.  I could offer such meaning as a justification for the -ment suffix.

I had a cell phone, thanks to the car charger adapter.  Three times or more per day during my forest saunters (Thoreau liked that word) I reached those positions where AT&T could hear me at a strength of one or two bars.  Those signal hot spots were about 1,500 feet from home base.  On those three occasions every day, I checked for voice mail messages, except when I forgot to bring the phone.

Otherwise, as I did when returning calls to three people with whom the conversations typically ran long, I drove the car four miles for a good signal.  At $0.40 to $0.50 per mile, that adds substantially to the cost of a phone call, especially when it’s 12 or 85 Fahrenheit and you leave the car running for A/C or heat while gabbing.  (According to Consumer Reports, the total cost of ownership, operation, and maintenance of my car over five years is $0.44/mile.  It is a subcompact, tiny, and gets 34-40 miles per gallon.)

After having used scribblement, thinking myself clever for coming up with it on my own, I pulled out the Webster’s just to make sure I had invented something.  (You didn’t think I would go two years in the woods without a dictionary, did you?)  Page 1050.  Scribal, scribble, scribbler, scribe … no scribblement!  Yay!  Then, I flattened my bubble under the authoritative weight of the public library’s giant dictionary.  Scribblement was a word in the Webster’s of 1913.  Its definition was, and is “a scribble.”  Authorities say the word is dated, but not archaic or obsolete.

English: Portrait by Benjamin D. Maxham (dague...

Thoreau portrait, 1856 daguerreotype by Benjamin D. Maxham

Original title page of Walden featuring a pict...

Original title page of Walden featuring a picture drawn by Thoreau’s sister Sophia

If a scribblement is a scribble, you may ask, why not just call the letters scribbles?  Scribblers scribble scribbles, don’t they?  Well, what do you call a 20-page scribble on two sides of loose-leaf paper, photocopied half a dozen times, the original stored in a loose-leaf binder, placed with annotated photos into 9×11 envelopes, and mailed to people in Wisconsin, New York and Connecticut?  Add to those long letters nine volumes (Marble-type composition books) of personal journals, or writing yoga, done partly from feeling obligated because Thoreau got a book out of his stunt and he didn’t even stay through the winters at Walden — or so I’ve heard.

THAT is making scribblements, not scribbles.

This blog is an outgrowth, or continuation (with changes, such as an audience) of those scribblements, and I’d feel silly calling it Scribbles from Balsamea.

1906 painting by Carl Larsson, “Model Writing Postcards.” Some people really know how to do their scribbling: on the job, between modeling assignments, in costume. Click for better view.

But why “scribble” instead of “write?”  Isn’t it writing?

Oh, puh-leeze!  Writement?  Not even I would invent a dopey word like that (not to imply you’re a dope if you asked the question).  And it would imply that I think myself a writer.  If I am, it is probably not a good idea to pat myself on the back for it.

Isn’t “scribble,” with or without “-ment,” diminutive, even self-derogatory?  Seriously (if that is possible in this post), I can explain farther, but it would take too long, and double your boredom.  So I’ll leave you there.