Smells Like Fall in the Mountains

With just a week left before the kids and I head back to school, we’ve been getting in our "one lasts" this week.  One last bike ride to get Italian ice at the stand downtown. One last walk to the beach with friends visiting their grandparents across the street.  And one last trip to Copperas Pond, one of our favorite short hikes in the Adirondacks, ending with a gorgeous, clear mountain swimming hole.  But it turns out, the mountain started autumn already, while nobody was looking…

Quick-moving clouds and a chilly breeze meant only the brave went swimming!  (I was happy reading an ARC of Megan Crewe’s GIVING UP THE GHOST on a rock.)

We looked for frogs — this pond is usually hopping with them — but only saw one, tucked in between some rocks and looking like he was ready to call it a summer.  The air even smelled different than it did last time we were here, just a couple warmer weeks ago.  Crisper, and with that mix of earth and leaves crushed under hiking boots.

I know for many of you reading this, it’s still summery-warm, still bathing suit and cookout weather. But this week, we saw sure signs that fall is just about here.  The mountains always know first….

I’m with the Lorax

Rattlesnake Mountain has long been one of my family’s favorite hikes around the Adirondacks.  It’s always had a great mix of the things we love in a hike: a great view for a moderately challenging climb, cool mushrooms to look at, the occasional garter snake, a rock shaped like a chair that’s located at a perfect spot for a water break, and a tree that we’ve been calling "our tree" for ten years.  Here’s a picture of it we took a few years ago.

Rattlesnake Mountain was the first mountain my son ever climbed as a toddler. He was two and a half, and we made it as far as this tree before he was too tired to go on.  We played hide and seek around the tree for a while before heading down; he hid in the hollow, and I peeked around from the other side.  At one point, he lost his balance and started rolling down the hill until my husband caught him. 

On other climbs, as he got older, we’d pause at the tree and remember it as the milestone he reached on that first climb and talk about how much bigger and taller he was on each hike. And when my daughter came along and got big enough to go hiking, we told her the story and played hide and seek here, too. This strange-looking tree has become a Rattlesnake Mountain landmark for our family. A place to stop and catch our breath and say, "Remember when…."

J is 13 now, as tall as I am, and beyond fitting in the hollow tree, but he came along with E and me on our hike up Rattlesnake today.  Right away, we noticed something was different about the trail.  There’s been some serious logging on the mountain, which is private land, and there are scars.  Trails that are muddier. Tree stands that are more sparse.  E was immediately furious.  We reminded her that it is indeed private land, that the owner has the right to cut some trees, and that it’s been great that they’ve kept the mountain open to hikers all this time when it’s private property.  And the logging wasn’t irresponsible; nothing was clear cut. 

I thought I was doing a great job being the voice of reason, but then we came to this.

Our tree.

We were all so very sad. I felt like we should have tacked a little sign on it when we were here last fall: "Please leave this one. It’s important."  But that’s not the way the world works.

We continued to the top, where the view of Lake Champlain was as spectacular as always and had the added benefit of being filled with giant, prehistoric-looking dragonflies.  Can you see them?

It made us feel a little better.  Sort of.

But tonight, I can’t shake the feeling that a little bit of my kids’ childhood got chopped down along with that tree. Even here at home, hours later, I can’t believe how much I miss it.

Going Where the Snow Is

On Sunday, the last day of a delightfully quiet winter break, I desperately wanted to go cross-country skiing.  Thanks to some December rain, my yard is more grass than snow now, but an hour’s drive into the mountains solved that problem.

I kept an eye out for wildlife, but the best I could do were a few sets of snowshoe hare tracks leading into the trees.

Beech trees in winter always make me smile.  They’re the last trees in the forest to give up their leaves, and to me, they always look like they forgot to change their clothes with the season.

Back at school today, I watched the clouds thicken outside the hallway windows.  There’s a storm on the way, with another 6-12 inches of snow expected tomorrow.  I know where I’ll be this weekend…

Collecting Leaves on Mount Jo

What do you do when your middle grade novel about a 7th grade kid whose leaf collection is ruining her life is off in New York City being edited?  You head for the mountains to collect leaves, of course!

THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z won’t need my attention until copy edits are complete, and the Adirondacks were postcard-perfect this morning, so we headed out for a morning hike so my own 7th grader could work on his school leaf collection project.

An American Beech greeted us at the trailhead to Mount Jo.

With almost no wind, Heart Lake was a perfect mirror for the foliage.

I kept tripping over roots because I couldn’t stop staring up at the leaves against the blue sky.

When we hiked Mount Jo a few weeks ago, this view from the summit was shrouded in fog, but today made up for it.

Our leaf collector came home with six new specimens — Mountain Maple, Striped Maple, Bigtooth Aspen, American Mountain Ash, American Beech, and Balsam Fir.  The rest of us came home with pockets full of rocks and pine cones, tired legs, and lighter hearts. 

Almost Autumn

In honor of the first day of fall tomorrow, I’m sharing a few photos from today’s hike up Mount Jo in the Adirondacks.

We decided to climb, even though it was drizzling when we got to the trailhead.

This is the view from the summit — not exactly what we’d had in mind, but pretty in a hazy, climbing-into-a-cloud sort of way.  If it were clear, you’d see a  handful of the High Peaks and Heart Lake beyond the trees.

E noticed this little guy on the trail and moved him to safety so he didn’t get squashed.

And this one is for blog readers who live where the leaves don’t change color, or where they haven’t changed just yet. 

A branch full of maple leaves to launch you into autumn. Have a terrific week!

Rattlesnake Mountain

We hiked Rattlesnake Mountain in the Adirondacks on Sunday, one of my family’s favorites. Here’s why…

You don’t find too many picnic spots with a nicer view.

In case you’re wondering, the mountain doesn’t really live up to its name. Eastern Timber Rattlesnakes have been spotted on Split Rock Mountain, further south in the Adirondack Park, but not here. We did find a tiny garter snake.

I was amazed by how close he let me get to take his picture.  Maybe he knows that living on a mountain called Rattlesnake requires a little extra courage.

Journal in the Woods – Part 3

Two more miles through the woods…seven more mosquito bites…and Mystery Writer remains a mystery. 

The boys were off getting haircuts this weekend, so E and I decided to take the little black nature journal on another hike.  This time, we checked out Silver Lake Bog, a beautiful trail that starts with a half-mile boardwalk stroll before climbing through the woods to a bluff overlooking Silver Lake.

For a couple weeks now, we’ve been trying to track down the owner of a beautifully sketched and written nature journal that a student’s father found by the side of  a hiking trail.  It chronicles seven years of Adirondack hikes and includes the names of every bird and wildflower spotted along the trails, but no name of an owner.  Last week, we checked the log book at Poke-o-Moonshine mountain to see if we could figure out who hiked there on the date noted in the journal, but the log book didn’t go back that far.  We ran into the same problem at Silver Lake Bog this weekend.  The first entry in the book is from just over a month ago.

We didn’t find our Mystery Writer, but here’s what we did find:

Many, many lovely bunchberry plants,

A pitcher plant (Did you know that this is a meat-eating plant?  Doesn’t it look alien?)

A White Admiral butterfly,

A friendly toad, and a tiny garter snake, no bigger than a Number 2 pencil, who slithered under a log before we could snap his picture.

We enjoyed some writing time up on the bluff, so close to all the things Mystery Writer loved, but no closer to knowing her name.

We’ll hike again next week, but I’m afraid we’ll run into the same problem — log books that have been replaced since Mystery Writer’s last visit.  Where are the old ones?? 

This afternoon, I called DEC headquarters, where a woman told me that I should check with Chris.  Chris might have them, over in Lands and Forests.  She transferred me to his voice mail.  He’s out of the office until June 25th. 

Part of me is glad.  I am loving the sunshine, the warm rocks, the leaves under my feet.  Besides, nothing ruins a good mystery like having it solved too soon.

Journal in the Woods – Part 2

Marjie and I loaded up the kids to hike Poke-o-Moonshine on Saturday, in the hopes of finding a clue in the mystery of the anonymous nature journal.  Mystery Writer was there on September 7, 2006 and wrote about seeing ravens, hawks, and birch trees along the trail.  

Unfortunately,  the DEC log book at the trailhead only went back as far as January 30, 2007.  What happened to the book for last September??  The worker at the ranger station told us to try calling the DEC in Ray Brook next week to see if they still have it. He’s not sure if they keep the old ones or throw them out.

The trip wasn’t wasted, though.  It was a beautiful hiking day. 

Visibility was fantastic, so the view of the Adirondacks was spectacular.

We found a patch of lady slippers tucked in the woods alongside the trail.

The fire tower wasn’t open, but we climbed part of the way up to enjoy the view.

We brought Mystery Writer’s journal to the summit for inspiration while we did a little writing and sketching of our own.

We stopped  to rescue an Eastern newt from the middle of the busy trail on our way down.

We got back to the car with tired legs but healthier souls, true to Mystery Writer’s promise, and I’m convinced her journal was happy to see an Adirondack summit again after those months under the snow. 

Next stop on the Nancy Drew Adirondack Mystery tour?   Probably Silver Lake Bog or Coon Mountain, both beautiful hikes with log books we can check out.  Stay tuned!

Journal in the Woods

A little black leather-bound mystery fell into my lap today.  My friend Marjie, another English teacher in my school, handed me the journal 9th period.  A student’s father had found it in the trees alongside a trail when he was hiking in the  Adirondacks.  They looked for a name.  Nothing. They read bits and pieces of it but couldn’t figure out who might have left it in the woods.

I opened the front cover and saw this.

The journal was filled (half-filled, actually) with beautiful sketches, poems, and thankfulness for the role that nature plays in grounding us when we need it the most.  But no name.  No clues.  Just lovely pencil sketches and descriptions of the moss, the ferns, the pitcher plants in the bog.  It is lovely.  And homesick, I can tell.  This journal needs to get back to its owner.

Here’s our best hope.  At the end of each entry was a date and the name of the trail the writer hiked that day.  The Department of Environmental Conservation leaves log books at the trailheads of many Adirondack hikes.  Did this hiker sign the logs?  I took the journal home tonight, and my kids are on the case now, too.  We’ll be hiking this weekend, following Mystery Writer’s trail and checking the log books to see who hiked on those days.  I’ll post a progress report next week!