GREEN THOUGHTS: Harbingers of spring

Coltsfoot. Photo contributed

I’M A LATE BLOOMER—didn’t own a car until age 22, married just before 30, and still prefer chocolate milk over beer. In contrast to my pokiness are the early bloomers of the plant world, starting to show up now. I’m glad to see them, along with bluer skies, longer days, and the chance of a Covid shot sometime in the far future.

The sweet smell of ‘Luna,’ coming from behind the garage, has been with us for a few weeks. This is a hybrid witchhazel shrub, a cross between the Chinese Hamamelis mollis and the Japanese H. japonica. While the yellow and pink flowers cover the branches, you might miss them because they are so small, yet like bees to honey, the strong floral scent in winter draws you in.

Witchhazels are easy to grow in a sunny or mostly-sunny site with well-drained soil. The flowers come in shades of yellow, orange and red, and remain looking good for a long period. There are at least 50 named varieties of hybrid witchhazel, all a bit different, and I can understand that if one had the room, it might be fun to have a collection. The Chicago Botanical Garden grows 22 different types, and with names like ‘Glowing Embers,’ ‘Ripe Corn’ and ‘Strawberries and Cream,’ I’m almost ready to get on a plane to visit… if only I had my vaccinations. Read more…

THROUGH THE WOODS: Trout fishing season opens April 1

KIDS ALWAYS SEEM TO ACQUIRE nicknames and one of mine was Fishcake. I was often fishing as I grew up in the Town of Austerlitz starting about 1950. Our family members had multigenerational area farms and most hunted and fished. Local game and fish fed many rural families. My grandfather, “Gramp” took me with him on fishing trips to our farm streams and ponds and started teaching me fishing necessities as far back as I can remember.

There was rich soil near the barns, and he looked for very green, grassy areas to dig for earthworms or as we called them “fishworms.” He dug with a spade fork while I held a tin can and as he turned over the sod, I grabbed the writhing worms and dropped them into the can. You needed the right type of can or the big ones could escape. Adding some dirt, grass or leaves made them feel safe and they stayed put.

For trout we used a stealthy approach to a stream. Trout could spook if you put a shadow over the water or caused vibrations from footsteps. We looked for a pool spreading out from a little waterfall or deep water flowing under a bank and tree roots—places where a big trout could hide or feed. I learned to grasp a wriggling worm and thread a hook through it, so a fish had to take the disguised hook and not just nip off the tail. Our pond sunfish were good at this. The tip of the pole didn’t cast an alarming shadow, and Gramp would hide behind a tree and flip line and worm into the stream’s current above the target area. The worm would be carried by the current and it was a wonderful sight when a trout shot out and grabbed the bait. Gramp flipped up the tip of the pole and “set” the hook into the trout’s mouth. Then the fight was on. The finer clear leader between the hook and the line was fine so the fish wouldn’t see it, and it was rated for a certain weight so the fish needed to be allowed to swim and jump until it tired and could be safely reeled in. This was the most exciting part, and the size of the fish could be assessed. Then I got ready for it to be flipped up on the bank. Gramp would put his foot on the fish secure it and knock its head on a rock to kill it. He cut a small branch about two feet long with a smaller twig at the end like a hook. The dead fish was put on it by threading the long end through the mouth and out the gills. The fish was secure against the branch hook and more could be strung on it if we were lucky.

We progressed down a stream like this, and we usually went home with our supper. I learned to clean the fish and “Gram” was ready with a skillet. Rolled in cornmeal and fried in butter made one of our best spring meals. Good luck to all our area fishermen and women.

Professor leads walking tour at Olana

GREENPORT–Rebecca Pinder PhD, associate professor of biological sciences at Columbia-Greene Community College, will provide nature lovers with a close, personal look at the hemlocks located throughout the Olana State Historic Site’s 250-acre, artist-designed landscape.
Ms. Pinder will be leading this Walking Tour at the site, 5720 State Route 9G, Saturday, April 3 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.
Participants joining her on the walk will be invited to locate hemlocks on the Olana
property and take part in an immersive “tree mapping project” by the artist Jean Shin.

Ms. Shin’s The‘Fallen’ art exhibition, celebrating the ecological importance and historical significance of hemlock trees, opens at Olana May 1 and will be on view through October 31.
“Right now hemlocks face the threat of an invasive pest: the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid,”
Ms. Pinder explained in a press release. “The walk that I am leading will help guests identify these magnificent trees, and we will discuss their history and the current threat. Participants will have a chance to tag a hemlock as part of Jean Shin’s exhibit too.”

Admission is $15 per person, or $10 for members of Olana. To purchase tickets, visit olana.org.
More information about The ‘Fallen’ is available at olana.org/exhibition/fallen.

THROUGH THE WOODS: March Winds

Tulips in the wind. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

Song of March

By Patricia L. Cisco

“…With longer days and shorter nights,

the wayward winds of March take flight.

Four winds she holds within her grip,

then hurls them from her fingertip…”

MARCH IS THE TUMULTUOUS MONTH that represents progression from winter to spring. The earth not only rotates around its axis (an imaginary line from north pole to south pole), but there is a tilt of about 23 degrees to its axis. It takes a year for the earth to travel around the sun and the tilt causes the north pole to point more toward the sun in summer and away in winter. The sun’s light intensity does not change, just the positions of the earth. To illustrate this, take a flashlight (the sun) and point the light beam straight at a sheet of paper (the earth). Then tilt the paper and see how the light on the paper spreads out and is less intense (winter).

During March, the earth heats up enough from the more direct light to cause fluctuations in our weather with high-pressure and low-pressure areas causing winds. My house is solidly built and sits on a hill. The trees are bare, and high winds come straight through to slam the house and shake the windows. Some nights this month the locomotive roar of the wind has made me wake and sit straight up in bed. Wow! The poor cat dove under the covers. Read more…

THROUGH THE WOODS: The Ides of March

Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO the ancient Romans had a different calendar than ours and each month was divided into sections with the middle called the Ides. For some of us old codgers who studied William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar, this time marked the death of Caesar as predicted by the fortune teller: “Beware the Ides of March.” Not a jolly time for Caesar, and in this part of the world not always a happy time for us either.

It was also the time of Roman tax collection. At least ours is the Ides of April. At my place, the temperature dropped about 25 degrees from last Saturday to Sunday, the March wind was roaring and slamming the house, and there were spurts of snow on Sunday! The snowdrops folded up and looked like they wanted to go back into the ground. The birds were being blown around trying to get to the feeders. The deer were out to munch down as much grass as they could in between the worst wind gusts.

With March you never can predict the weather. St. Patrick’s Day can be beautiful or there have been times of several feet of drifting snow in the hills of our county. Add in a loss of an hour’s sleep from the Daylight-Saving Time change this week. Spring comes on Saturday with hope but no guarantees for the weather. The trees are showing the promise of enlarging buds in a range of color from the yellow of the willow trees to the reds of maples. The brown, tenacious leaves of oaks are letting go and blowing away to add some more mulch and protection to floors of forests. Read more…