THROUGH THE WOODS: The brown thrasher

IF YOU ARE DRIVING ALONG on one of our narrower, quieter, country roads and a fairly large rusty-colored bird quickly flies across in front of you, it is probably a brown thrasher. For a size comparison, the cardinal is 8 1/2” long while the brown thrasher is 11”. The thrasher is an elusive bird, so don’t expect to stop and easily locate it. The best way to see it is to go back in the evening and quietly wait for it to sit on top of a bushy thicket, or a tangle of multiflora rose cane. It will probably be found by listening for its loud song reminiscent in quality to a northern mockingbird but without the repeating of so many other birds’ songs.

Brown thrasher Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

The thrasher will occasionally mimic a few birds like the northern cardinal, tufted titmouse or northern flicker. Some describe the song as “plant-a-seed, plant-a-seed, bury-it, bury-it, cover-it-up, cover-it-up, let-it-grow, let-it-grow, pull-it-up, pull-it-up, eat-it, eat-it, yum-yum.” It usually repeats each change of pitch and phrase twice and just keeps on singing. Some researchers have recorded it continuously singing over a thousand phrases, much more than the mockingbird, which usually comes to mind when we think of prize songsters. This credit should belong to the brown thrasher. Somehow though, our singing, “Listen to the brown thrasher” doesn’t come across as well as “Listen to the Mockingbird.”

Once located on its perch it is recognized by its rufous head, back and tail, heavily dark streaked white breast, and buff colored belly. The streaking can be irregular and spotty. The bird characteristically points its tail down while singing. Read more…

GREEN THOUGHTS: Small fun with fake stone

These trough gardens are planted in homemade “hypertufas” planters. Photo contributed

DIAMOND RINGS, GOLD WATCHES and the keys to a new Porsche—all good things in small packages. While I don’t have much experience with any of those, I am crazy about tiny plants in special pots, a unique branch of horticulture known as trough gardening.

Who invented the trough garden? The answer may be lost in time. Perhaps someone with a green thumb had a stack of obsolete stone animal watering troughs lying around, as well as a few stone sinks, and decided to plant something in them. Or, maybe a plant collector with tiny alpine plants, succulents and other wee treasures found they looked good and grew well in troughs. Like peanut butter and chocolate, a great combination was born.

Then the laws of supply and demand kicked in. Old stone sinks and troughs are rare antiques, and the few available command big prices. Luckily, some genius came up with a substitute version, which could be made by hand using a mixture of cement, peat moss, and sand. These troughs became known as ‘hypertufas,” since they resembled lightweight, somewhat porous tufa stone. Today, all sorts of variations on the faux stone trough garden exist, most far exceeding the average rock. Read more…

LIBRARIES: North Chatham, Roe Jan webinars and oral history project, Chatham

Retirement, wit, topics in North Chatham

N. CHATHAM—The North Chatham Free Library plans Zoom programs in June on retirement and satire.

Nancy Collamer. Photo contributed

Tuesday, June 2 at 7 p.m., Nancy Collamer, a recognized expert on career change and the writer of a monthly blog for the PBS site and, will lead an interactive Zoom program on planning a “second career” in retirement.

This session is the first in the library’s new series, Creating a Vibrant Retirement, funded in part by the Fund for Columbia  County, a fund of the Berkshire Taconic Foundation.

Subsequent retirement sessions to be held in the fall (most likely also on Zoom) are  “Rewire When You Retire,” “Be Your Own Health Care Advocate”  and two  separate sessions on the home in retirement: “Leaving or Staying in Your Home When You Retire:  Options  to Consider” and “Re-creating Your Home for a Vibrant Retirement.” Read more…

COMMUNITIES: Morale Drive, Thank heroes, State Park beaches

Firefighter drive supports morale, veterans

ANCRAM—A 2020 Memorial Day Firefighter Morale Drive is scheduled for Monday, May 25 starting at the Ancram Firehouse, 1306 County Route 7 at 10.30 a.m.

Firefighters from Ancram, Copake, Hillsdale, Craryville, Churchtown, Philmont and Taghkanic will participate, according to a press release from Ancram Fire Chief David Boice.

The Morale Drive route starts at the Ancram Firehouse, travels County Route 7 to 7A going through the center of Copake, takes a left at the Copake Clock and out to Route 22, takes Route 22 north, turn onto Route 344 Copake Falls, back onto Route 22 north to Hillsdale, takes a left at the light onto to Route 23 towards Craryville. Read more…


The grave of a veteran marked for Memorial Day. Photo by Nancy Jane Kern

MEMORIAL DAY IS THE TIME FOR HONORING and remembering those who have passed on and those who have served in our Armed Forces to make our country the wonderful nation it is today. There is so much negativity in the media we sometimes forget how much has been sacrificed for us.

We often take it for granted and we shouldn’t. When we have our holiday weekend to kick off the summer, we need to pause and remember who made this all possible. My father always referred to Memorial Day as Decoration Day. This name for the holiday began after the Civil War when children and later adults across the country placed flowers and “decorations” on the graves of our soldiers to remember their sacrifices. Toward the end of the 1800s people gradually started calling it Memorial Day, and then, especially after WWII, all family members were remembered whether they had served or not. Memorial Day, the last Monday of May, was declared the official name of the federal holiday in 1967. Flags are raised to full staff in the morning and then immediately and solemnly lowered to half staff until noon, then fully raised again for the rest of the day.

My grandmother was born in the 1800s and her family, according to the custom of the time, would treat cemeteries as parks. It was often a place to bring the whole family to remember loved ones, and family picnics might be held there. When we were small she would go with us to several family cemeteries and we were taught proper behavior. We had to be quiet and respectful and not walk on the graves, and we did have some refreshments. Before cars it was probably a necessity to pack a picnic meal on one of these excursions. Travel by horse and carriage would be much slower, and no fast food places available. Read more…