Walking With Goats! Oh My!

I have a friend who loves goats. She has three goats-triplets, actually-all siblings- and she has named them Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail. She and I walk them often on her large farm. Let me tell you, they are a hoot!  They are really big scaredy-cats. They walk right in front of us, stopping suddenly to munch on tall grass, making us bump into them or make a quick detour around them. If they get distracted by a yummy patch of grass and get separated from us on the trail, they come thundering up behind us in a tizzy. A strange sound startles them, like a flock of birds flying or a hawk screeching overhead. It’s almost charming and endearing.  And they have copper bells, like a small cowbell to add to the charm.

Last week while my friend was on vacation, I volunteered to take her goats on a walk.  It was cool and cloudy. But the air was fresh and invigorating. If you look closely, you will see the other reason I love to walk my friend’s goats. See that labrador retriever in the distance? That’s Murphy, the best walking companion ever. Dogs know how to enjoy walks, let me tell you. Even more than goats!

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It was hard to get a good picture of all four animals, but here is the best I got:

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This country girl loves a walk in the country with farm animals leading the way!

 

three days, three walks, YES!

On Thursday I had office hours until 3:30 and a meeting at 4:15. I grabbed my phone, turned it to “Two Steps from Hell” music, plugged in earbuds and left the office at 3:35. I had to be fast because the path usually takes me 45 minutes. No dawdling–the music pushed me, too, and I made it around the loop just in time to get to my meeting. No time for pictures!

Then on Friday I was done at 1:00, and I called home: “I’m going out to Indian Creek, can you come along?”  So, we got to the trailhead at 1:20 and were done at 3:20, a nice long walk.

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The start of the walk is through an open woods with big trees and very little undergrowth. Something magical about that. And shushing through a carpet of golden leaves is pretty nice, too.

icnc golden woods

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We walked from one end of the trail to the other, where there is a tall platform you can climb up for views of the lake/wetlands.

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We saw a great blue heron, lots of Canada Geese, and ducks. On the way back we noticed a lot of bittersweet vines, but we couldn’t tell whether it was the native kind or the invasive oriental bittersweet. They are not easy to tell apart. I hope it’s the native kind, because there was a lot of it!

On Saturday in spite of cool and drizzly weather we went for another walk. This one was in the Downerville State Forest and Grass River Wild Forest. The DEC maintains a short (less than a mile we think) trail to Harper’s Falls. So beautiful! To get to the trailhead you have to drive a long way on a winding dirt road, lined by a dozen or so hunting camps. Hunting season is clearly happening since the camps were all bustling with activity. Here I am at the trailhead:

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We made a point of chatting a bit more than usual so hunters would know we are not deer. But we didn’t see or hear any hunters.

harpers falls trailhead

The trail is easy, with a few ups and downs, a few short bridges over small streams, and a wonderful reward at the end. Most of the fall color is gone. The trees are brown and grey, the sky was grey, the leaves beige and brown. The main color came from green ferns and moss.

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The woods smelled wonderful. We heard and saw some ravens but otherwise the woods was quiet. When we stood still we could hear a few raindrops and the tap tap tap of leaves falling. As we got closer to the falls we could hear that, too.

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harpers falls downstream

I’m in my office right now getting ready to dig into a pile of essays that need to be graded. Would rather be out in the woods, but there’s a time for everything, and it’s nice to think of these places waiting for us to visit them again.

In Praise of Trees and Boardwalks

There’s a lovely (free!) county park near me that lends itself to cross-country skiing in the winter and hiking the rest of the year. This past Saturday, I took advantage of some free time and wandered the trails in the cool wet October we’ve been having. I know every trail in this park and took the time on this Saturday to stop and really look at the trees.

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I always knew the trees were part of a plantation effort from the 1930s; the set rows told me that.  I stopped to read the sign giving the details:

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I love the beavers on the sign- and I learned the date was earlier than I thought.  There was a Cub Scout activity happening at one end of the park, but I had the trails to myself this morning and it was lovely. I especially noticed some grand old trees that were dying due to age or injury (lightning, maybe?) and remembered from Biology class that even in death, these organisms give back to the soil. Here were three that struck me with their age and grandness even as they decayed.

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Anne should have been with me this morning, because – lo and behold- they have boardwalks!

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And one final picture of something I haven’t seen much of lately: a blue sky and sunshine!!

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I love county parks for their proximity to me and their price of admission: nothing. Thank goodness for tree planters and for taxes that pay for our county parks!! Head out to one this fall and enjoy nature for free.

hedgerows, fields, meadows and woods

We grew up in woods as very small kids. There was a soggy swampy woods right across the street from us, and a wooded hillside behind the house. The house was closely surrounded by a dozen or more old maple trees; we shushushushed in the blanket of leaves they threw down every fall. Then we moved when I was 7 and Jeanne 5 to a more cultivated area, with patches of woods, called “woodlots” by the local farmers and “magic playgrounds” by us kids. Even more magic were the hedgerows, where you had lots of light and sun but also trees to climb, rock piles to explore, shrubs to play in. In our new home woodlots were surrounded by corn, wheat, and hay fields, and some pastures. That kind of mixed quilt of landscape always feels like home to me. It is not that different here in the St Lawrence River valley. Like where I grew up in the northern Finger Lakes, the fields here are small and often rocky. There are plenty of hedgerows, magnets for wildlife of all kinds, and the woods have those old 18th and 19th century stone pasture “fences” that Jeanne saw in the Oatka Creek area.

This morning I went on a modest walk–only two miles or so. It took me an hour and I dawdled some. The trail is maintained by our town’s SUNY college, and must be used by their track team. The paths are flat and wide, neatly mowed and cleared. SUNY Canton trail mowedThe trail starts behind the school gym and wanders through tall trees, beside corn fields, hay fields, and wild meadows before finally meeting up with and following along the Grass River. I don’t think it is easy to see from the photo below, but the hedgerows were lovely, with trees growing up tall among rock piles. I was standing on the path and took this picture into the hedgerow–doesn’t it just invite exploration? But I am not 10 years old anymore and didn’t quite feel like crawling in there! I took the easier path.SUNY Canton trail hedgerow

Above me a red-tailed hawk floated in small circles over the river and fields, looking for breakfast. The path was cut through brushy areas and wild meadows full of birds going after flower seeds and berries. I stopped for a drink of water and snack and watched the breeze blowing milkweed fluff around. SUNY Canton trail leafy underfoot

Toward the end of the loop the trail followed the Grass River. I could hear traffic now and then, and I met up with a few other walkers, but mostly it was quiet and peaceful, a beautiful cool sunny autumn walk!SUNY Canton trail grass river

 

 

World’s Smallest Woolly Bear

Last week we took advantage of an extra day off to meet with family and hike an old, familiar park.  We hadn’t been there in five years, so we joined T’s parents for a stroll down memory lane.  I meant to take pictures of the trails, but we chatted so much about their recent trip to England, it completely slipped my mind until we got in the car to leave. Oops.  Luckily, I remembered in time to get the sign for this most southernly park in the county.

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As you may guess, it was a wet day with muddy trails, but we maneuvered wet spots to walk two miles down to the Oatka Creek and back.  It is a park that used to be farmland; in fact, an old road lined with massive oaks and maples cuts through the center of the park. After it was bought by the county, nature took over and now young forests are reclaiming former pastures. Vines climb over tumbling rock walls that used to designate cropland. (I’m guessing here, but I have seen these rock walls in many county parks here- I love how nature takes over once human activity ceases.)  Here is the beginning of that road-this pic shows it maintained for occasional use by visitors. But the rest of the road that extends through the park is a lovely lane, void of blacktop and guardrails. I promise I will take pictures next time I go there.

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And here is the Oatka Creek, which, ironically, runs through my hometown south of this point. It grows as it meanders north before it empties into the Genesee River to Lake Ontario. Wikipedia tells me this creek is the third longest tributary to the Genesee River.

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We took this picture from the bridge that crosses the creek. In the spring, we have seen several people fly fishing for trout.

And what did we discover in my in-law’s driveway? The world’s smallest woolly bear caterpillar!! Note T’s hand in the picture for scale. This is the caterpillar for the Isabella Tiger Moth- scientific name Pyrrharctia isabella. I’ve never seen one so small. Maybe it portends a short winter with little snow? One can only hope. (Actually, I love snow and hope for lots of it so we can go snowshoeing!!)

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Grow big, little isabella!

sneaking a walk on a wednesday afternoon

Although it was a strangely hot 82 degrees, we managed to schedule a short walk–maybe two miles–from campus downtown to a sweet little place called “Heritage Park”. It is small but carefully maintained with wide trails, lots of benches, landscaped areas with lawn, shrubs, flowers, a covered picnic area, a paved parking lot, and informational plaques. The group of volunteers that maintains the park does valiant battle with poison ivy. This time we noticed the paths had been widened and areas beside them cleared, which I suspect is part of the attempt to eradicate that menace. heritage park oct 10 path

The path itself is a short loop that runs around a tiny island in the middle of the Grass River. It has lively rapids and waterfalls on both sides and the island is completely wooded. The picture below is me standing on the bridge that goes out to the island. Although it was very hot, it was a nice way to fit in a walk without getting in the car to drive somewhere. This coming Saturday morning I am working on trails with the volunteers at Indian Creek, and if the weather is decent we plan a hike up a low peak for foliage viewing in the afternoon. heritage park oct 10.jpg

weekend walking report, and a confession

Two great walks this past weekend! On Friday, to celebrate the end of the week, we went for a three-mile walk at my current favorite spot, Indian Creek Nature Center. The weather was cloudy and damp, but we didn’t get actually rained on. We walked through a wide variety of landscapes: huge old maples, dark cedar groves, shrubby grassy areas, and overgrown apple orchards. We saw a lot of fungus of every shape, size and color. We saw winterberry shrubs and wild cherry, branches drooping with bright red and blue-black berries. We scared up a grouse, and were accompanied by chickadees and northern flickers and blue jays. ICNC into the woodsWe went at the end of the day, starting at 4:50, and enjoyed the dusky, quiet atmosphere. We had the place to ourselves. At the end of the walk we wandered over to an apple tree still covered with big golden fruit, and ate about three apples each. We saw a lot of vines with yellow berries, and tentatively identified them as American bittersweet. So that was an old familiar place, and on Saturday we explored the Whalen Park Trail in Massena. To find this one we used the brand new website put together by the St Lawrence County chamber of commerce and some other organizations. It is called STLC Trails: St Lawrence County Trails  and so far I am finding it very helpful. We had to drive for 45 minutes to get to the first trailhead at the Massena country club golf course. This trail is a bike path, 100% paved and smooth as can be. massena bike trail

The wide grassy verge was recently mowed, and was nicely landscaped with side paths to the river, several benches, and some decorative boulders here and there. bench at massena trail

The river was full of Canada geese, various ducks, and cormorants. It sprinkled a bit but not enough to deter us. It is an out-and-back path that ended at a park/playground with covered picnic tables and a handicapped-accessible canoe/kayak launch. So we walked a respectable 3.2  miles but it took us a while because we were walking slowly, for reasons I explain below. At many places we could take a few steps and get right to the shore. I even tried my hand at stone-skipping.st law river massena trail

The path stayed close to the river, winding through tall grasses/wildflowers, mowed hay fields, and beautiful towering oak, hickory, willow, basswood and other trees. After this walk we drove a few miles down the highway to the trailhead of Richard’s Landing Bike Trail, and walked just a little way out of curiosity. richards landing dike trail massena

This trail is gravel rather than paved, but still could be biked, which is what we plan to do next time. We sat on some big rocks along this trail to sip coffee from thermoses we brought with us. We took a short side trail through dense woods to the river and surprised a large flock of geese.  After that it was time for lunch so we went to the co-op in Potsdam and grabbed some healthy “fast food”.

So, the confession: the reason we didn’t go on the second trail very far and the reason I walk with hiking poles is that for the last six months I’ve had plantar fasciitis (hashtag!). It is sometimes not that bad and sometimes that bad. Yesterday was a really painful day, possibly made worse by walking on the paved path. It doesn’t stop me walking but I have to be careful. Woodsy trails with softer ground and frequent stops to admire this or that seem better than paved or concrete. #walkingwithplantarfasciitis

A New Bridge

After three years of construction, Letchworth State Park has a new bridge spanning the Genesee River. The old bridge from 1875 was deemed unsafe for train traffic, so it was removed and a new bridge installed. Local residents have been patiently waiting to see the replacement bridge, worried it might be ugly and modern. But we need not have worried. Voila!!

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The river was swollen with the rains and water roared over the falls. Everyone loves the bridge, and Friday after school Todd and I grabbed a pizza and ate outdoors by the falls. Then, we began the climb: over 200 stone steps to the top of the bridge, which, of course, is off limits to pedestrians. Trains only for this bridge!

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We are lucky to live close to the #1 State Park in the US.  Stop by if you ever get the chance! #nyhiking  #teacherswhohike.  Happy long weekend, everyone.

Finding Green Space

We visited our son this past weekend in Connecticut. It was great fun and terrific to see him, but the area is highly urbanized.  Everywhere I looked I saw sidewalks, buildings, highways, traffic, and more buildings! It only took 24 hours of that to make me long for some green space.  So Sunday morning Todd and I headed to a local park designed around an old stone mansion built in the 1860s.  We found trails through the woods edged with stone walls in various states of disrepair. I could only imagine how much work those walls took to construct.

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But then I found something even more fun: a boardwalk! My sister’s favorite kind of trail. Naturally, I sent her a picture.

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We walked for an hour, exploring meandering woodsy trails with lots of dog walkers and even a family having professional photos taken.  After taking in the peace (and a piece)  of nature, we headed out of the woods back to cement and blacktop grand central station.  Thank goodness for Departments of Park and Recreation around the country that preserve green spaces for nature lovers like us.

when all else fails…

I have pretty much given up on getting out of the office for walks during the day or finding time to go somewhere during the week, and I’m concentrating on taking long hikes on Saturdays and Sundays. Tomorrow we are planning to go to a hiking/biking path in Massena. But it occurred to me that I could also do a bit of walking in my office building, which has three floors and plenty of stairs! This is my hallway: not a bad walking surface…hallway

and here are the stairs, stairway downwhich are not as pretty as a woods path but have their own aesthetic charm, of a geometric, structural sort. stairway spiral

I’ll give that a go and report back on how it works!