Sunday, December 18, 2011

White Pelicans

This is part of a large flock that flew over us this morning in Cedar Key while we were on our daily walk. These huge birds winter by the hundreds in Suwannee Sound.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Close Relatives

The plant in the photo above is groundsel bush Baccharis halimifolia, and the one below is saltwater false willow Baccharis angustifolia. These close relatives have similar seeds with silvery threads that help with wind dispersal. They both are able to grow in wet places, but the false willow grows only in wetlands and is apparently more tolerant of salinity. What is interesting about the plants in the accompanying photos is that they are growing side by side on the edge of a salt marsh near Cedar Key, with their leaves actually touching.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Hydric Hammock

This photo was made yesterday in the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, as a group of us were about to paddle Sanders Creek from the Dixie Mainline bridge to the Gulf of Mexico. It shows what I am calling a hydric hammock. The uplands on both sides of Sanders Creek consist of swamp, with baldcypresses and hardwoods. Slightly lower in elevation, the creek bottoms support marsh punctuated by cabbage palms. The water in the creek is tidal and brackish. At this point, about four miles from the Gulf, smooth cordgrass, black needlerush, and sawgrass are found in close proximity. Respectively the three species are characteristic of salt marsh, brackish marsh, and fresh marsh, and they are separated here by slight differences in elevation. Blue crabs were abundant in the clear water of the creek.
Making a Living in the Adirondacks

Lisa Bramen has an interesting article in the December 2011 issue of Adirondack Life magazine. Titled "Live Here, Work Here," it explores the employment options for someone who wants to live in the Adirondacks. The options (find one of the rare jobs, telecommute, start a business, commute to a nearby population center) remind me of a section on options for economic development in the Clifton-Fine community I explored in Gem of the Adirondacks.

The telecommute option I proposed in 2005 was unrealistic because the region had very poor electronic communications. Fortunately this is now being remedied by a new fiberoptic link that should make high speed internet service possible. Also an additional cell phone tower is planned that will offer service to much of the area.

The same issue of Adirondack Life carried the bad news that of 14 post offices in the Adirondacks proposed for closure, four of them serve the hard-luck Clifton-Fine community. The post offices are Fine, Cranberry Lake, Newton Falls, and Wanakena. Presumably the post office in Star Lake would serve the entire community. As the article noted, having a post office is important not only for mail delivery, but is also important in promoting cohesion in small communities. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Fifty Years Later

Last weekend I went to the 50-Year Reunion of my high school graduation from Our Lady of Mercy High School. I had not been back since graduation night. I thought high school was totally behind me and really had little to do with me today.

But walking into the auditorium changed that perspective. I could almost see my parents, my grandmother, and my sister Kathy, all now long gone, sitting there cheering me on. I remembered my brother Pat there in that all-girl place to celebrate with me, the oldest of the Rooney kids.

I felt the Moving Up Day spirit, the fun of Prom night, the May Day music, the Field Day excitement, the applause of all the plays when I worked the lights and backstage equipment. I wished Kathy had gone to Mercy too, instead of the "new" high school she went to. That was a weird feeling. I do not remember thinking it when she was in high school.

What do you know, Mercy is part of who I am after all. The discovery surprises me more than a bit.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The American Cheese Society Conference

This year I chose to only attend the Festival of Cheeses at the American Cheese Society Conference in Montreal. I went with daughter Meg, the cheesemonger, who attended the full Conference.

The Festival was beautiful and thrilling, as always. There were more than 1600 varieties of American-made cheeses on display and available for tasting. Wine, beer, and cider flowed too. It is an experience no cheese lover, or potential cheese lover, should miss if the opportunity presents itself...and it may! Next year the Conference will be in Raleigh, delightfully nearby for us Southerners. Check out the photos and think about next August....

A Public Meeting

On August 8, 2011 the St. Lawrence County legislature conducted its normal monthly meeting in Star Lake, NY, in the 500 seat auditorium of the Clifton-Fine Central School. (The much diminished school now has only 350 K students in K-12, down from 1,300 at its peak enrollment.) The choice of location was intended to inform the local public about the current status of efforts to clean up and redevelop the J & L (Benson Mines) industrial site.

Unfortunately, trivial, routine, and unrelated business took up most of the allotted meeting time, and attendees were impatient by the time the main topic came up for discussion.

Mining activities were terminated 34 years ago, and the mine plant was partially dismantled. As a zoned "industrial site" within the highly restricted Adirondack Park, citizens have long hoped to attract some other business to the site. It is known to suffer from pollution from spilled petroleum and other contaminants, however, and any re-use is contingent on assessment of hazards and clean-up. 

In what turned out to be a setback, an environmental consulting firm hired to conduct needed assessments failed to provide the services for which it was contracted, and moreover stuck the county for over $400,000 in out-of-pocket expenses. One purpose of the meeting was to update citizens on the status of negotiations with the company for redress.

As was said more than once during the meeting, 34 years is a long time for a problem of this magnitude to persist. The fortunes of the community have deteriorated significantly during that period, and will continue to wane while the issue remains unresolved. Unfortunately, even needed assessments have not been conducted, and there are no good prospects for a quick fix.

Ruins of the mine plant, as seen from State Route 3 in 2002

Heath Pond

Located a few miles west of Wanakena, NY, Heath Pond is one of the headwaters of the Little River, a tributary of the Oswegatchie. Probably the stream feeding it was originally impounded by beavers, although today a logging road takes the place of the beaver dam. The beavers haven't given up, however, and from time to time they manage to block the culvert that carries the overflow.

Geologists believe that in the past the larger Oswegatchie flowed through the current channel of the Little River. More than 10,000 years ago glacial moraines blocked the old outlet of Cranberry Lake and forced the Oswegatchie into its current channel.

The photo above does not do justice to the beauty of the scene; it looks in a southerly direction, and the difficult lighting does not permit the camera to distinguish the subtle difference in coloration of red and black spruces and other vegetation features.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Fiftieth Anniversary Cheese

The title of this post may be misleading; this is not a 50-year old cheese, or a cheese produced in recognition of the 50th anniversary of a cheese factory. This one is a 10 pound gouda-style cheese made in November 2010 by our friends and cheesemakers John and Nancy Mims of Cypress Point Creamery in Hawthorne, Florida. In the image above it graces the table of Roscoe and Pat Towne as they host classmates at a cocktail party celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Clifton-Fine Central High School's 1961 graduation.

The cheese and the celebration were enjoyed by all.

Save our Schoolhouse and Athletic Prowess

For the past several years civic-minded members of the Star Lake, NY community have mounted a series of coordinated volunteer events to preserve the hamlet's 1882/1892 schoolhouse and turn it into an asset for the community.

The Star Lake School in 2011
One such effort is the annual Save our Schoolhouse 5k Run and Walk. Participating for the fourth year, we were among more than 100 runners and walkers.

Tension Mounts as the Race is About to Start

Called the Adirondack Exhibit Center, the old school serves as a gallery displaying the work of local artists, an orientation center to features of the community, and a gathering place for local events. Proceeds from the 6th Annual 5k Run and Walk will help fund installation of a new roof, the last major needed structural improvement. More information about the Save our Schoolhouse organization is available here.

This year three of us who were members of the 1961 graduating class were winners in the 60-69 year age group. 

The 1961 Class of Winners

50 years and counting - Smiles and Solemnity

I'm just back from Star Lake, NY, a small and easily overlooked place on the forgotten western fringe of the great Adirondack wilderness. On the fair night of June 26, 1961 forty-seven of us graduated from Clifton-Fine Central High School. Last week we celebrated the 50th anniversary of that event. Since our graduation, nine have gone on to their eternal rewards. The attachment to us survivors remains strong, however, and about 20 of us attended reunion events in Cranberry Lake or Star Lake.

We were the largest class ever produced by our community,  and we benefited from a time of great local prosperity and promise. The intervening years have not been kind to the community, but we can look back fondly on the best of those good times.

Thanks to classmate Gary Peterson for sharing this photo, made at one of the events.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Black Mangroves in Bloom

Our neighbor and mosquito expert Dan Kline alerted us to this year's unusual flowering of black mangroves at Cedar Key. He mentioned that these and some other flowers attract mosquitoes.We have also learned that mangroves are attractive to bees and were formerly important to the honey-producing business. We took the above photos in late June.

Although the abundance of flowering here in 2011 was unusual, we know that black mangroves have flowered at Cedar Key in other recent years. We took the photo below in October of 2008 of a tree covered with "seeds"--actually the trees are considered live-bearers, because the seeds have already germinated when their capsules fall into the water.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Temple Shir Shalom

We had a wonderful crowd at the Temple Shir Shalom Newcomers Club for our talk The Amazing World of American Cheese.

Thanks to everyone who came, was so welcoming, asked so many questions, and bought books too.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Shell Mound Paddle

Hog Island seen from the Shell Mound boat launch.
Last Friday Peg and I paddled with Mark, following the route he has laid out for a Shell Mound Paddle. The weather seemed iffy, with perhaps 10-12 knot winds at the relatively sheltered launch ramp. We decided to give it a try nevertheless, resolving to turn around if we ran into waters too rough for the newbies to handle. All went well, although the wind did pick up when we got to the unprotected west side of Hog Island. It was easy to see why the island is eroding on its western flank as it takes the full force of the waves. We could plainly see the exposed face of layers of shells on this prehistoric burial ground. We will have to come back again to photograph this side of the island because we were too busy negotiating the 2-foot plus waves to get out our cameras. 

After a rough passage, the lee side of Hog Island seemed serene
Once we had rounded the southern tip of the island we were in calm waters again and were able to paddle close to the island and take notes on vegetation. All and all we had a productive outing laced with just the right amount of adventure.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Who We Met Today

Walking nearly 12 miles in San Felasco Hammock today, we had some fun experiences with wildlife, only a portion of which we were able to capture in photographs. Enjoy with us the ones we photographed and are able to share.

Good Guy #1. We found him on his back and unable to right himself, perhaps flipped by wild pigs planning to make a meal of him. Once rescued and again upright, he beat a beeline for his burrow.
Bad Guy #1. This is poison oak. What more needs to be said?

Good Guy #2. This little alligator is all right with us, at least until he grows up and decides we don't belong in his territory.

Good Guy # 3 Honest, this really is another gopher tortoise, our second of the day.

Good Guy #4 Just when you were getting convinced that all gopher tortoises look alike, we present you with this juvenile, not only smaller, but more colorful than his elders.

Bad Guy #2 This little plant, often bearing pretty white flowers, is called "Tread Softly." If that doesn't tell you enough, consider its other name, "Stinging Nettles."

Thanks for joining us on our little tour of the very slow or stationary plants and wildlife encountered on our walk. Unfortunately the numerous lizards, butterflies, and birds we observed were too quick for us to capture their images.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Shired Creek Paddle

Last Sunday we climbed into our kayaks and followed the Shired Creek paddling trail laid out by Mark Gluckman, finally getting some data to begin putting together our long planned paddling guide for the Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuges. We were fortunate to be accompanied by a group of experts recruited by friend Melissa Desa. We learned a great deal while having a productive and enjoyable day.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mozzarella at Kona Joe's

Peg, Edie, and Donna review the instructions
At the urging of chief cook Edie, today we made mozzarella at Kona Joe's, a favorite gathering spot in our own Cedar Key, Florida. Ever the trouper, Edie came up with good cheese milk, an un-pasteurized un-homogenized cow milk from a nearby farmer. Unfortunately, only a half-gallon was available, and we opted to do one small batch with the good milk and another with a full gallon of grocery store milk.

Not bad-looking curds and whey
To no one's surprise, the good milk produced good results, and the other produced almost nothing we were able to salvage.
OMG, it looks like mozzarella!

Not sure we were able to bring about a revolutionary improvement in the ancient art of cheesemaking, but we had a good time and could count one significant success.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Wood Storks

We saw these this morning. We suspect they may have a nest nearby.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Natural Landscapes?

A Roadside Ditch
Driving on the Lower Suwannee NWR loop road a week ago, I was impressed by the way the landscape, and especially the hydrology appears to have been altered by human activities. Roads were built to get to the timber and later to get logs out. Except in the uplands, every road is bordered by water-filled ditches, the result of dredge-and-fill operations needed to move people and vehicles through swampy terrain. Consequences of road-building may include a greater area and distribution of open water than would have occurred under natural conditions and a possible lowering of the water table, making for drier uplands.

Shell Mound
Then on Saturday we heard a talk by Univ. of Florida archaeologist Dr. Ken Sassaman and his graduate students. They believe that much higher ground along the Refuges' coastline was altered by the activities of prehistoric residents. 

Activities of both the Paleoindians and much more recent lumbermen have apparently served to increase habitat diversity, and thus are probably favorable for wildlife. Nevertheless, one is led to wonder how different the area might have looked 12,000 years ago.

Except for occasional prehistoric shell mounds along the immediate coastline, paddlers will likely see landscapes much less affected by anthropogenic change than hikers.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fifty Years Later

 Next June 26 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of my high school graduation. Exact counts vary, but that night approximately 47 of us were launched into the wider world from Clifton-Fine Central School in Star Lake, NY, on the all-but-forgotten western edge of the great Adirondack wilderness. The event will be celebrated in a social gathering the weekend of August 12-13.

Excitement has been growing since classmate John Phillips has climbed a steep learning curve and acquired a high level of skill in social media. In its brief existence, the facebook page he manages has garnered over 450 followers and done wonders to help reunite the Clifton-Fine Diaspora. It has not only brought together semi-centenarians like us, but has strengthened linkages across the generations.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)
Here's another common wetland plant of freshwater habitats of the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge. Not quite a local specialty, we enjoy it also when we visit the Adirondacks in August. There it is common in the "Newton Falls pond" reach of the Oswegatchie River and likely also in the nearby Chaumont Swamp.

We might marvel that this plant thrives as well 1,200 miles north in New York State's Adirondacks as it does in Florida, but in fact its geographic range is even broader, extending from Nova Scotia to Argentina. Surely pickerelweed is another of Nature's winners.

They're Back!

We had heard the swallowtails (the American Swallowtail Kite Elanoides forficatus) were back, but these photographed last Monday on the refuge were our first of the year. We saw four, but they steadfastly refused to pose together for a picture. And regrettably, images made against the background of the sky offer no clues that these are birds with four-foot wingspans.

It is always a thrill to see these remarkable birds for the first time in the season, and almost as thrilling to see them the second, third, fourth, etc. times.