THROUGH THE WOODS: Death of a house

HALLOWEEN GOT ME THINKING about departed spirits. This is probably a strange topic since technically a house is made of dead wood, stone, bricks and other non-living things. However, in our mind and spirit a house can be a living thing because it is filled with memories and history and marked by the people who tended it while living out their lives. Our family home, my parents’ Donald and Marion Kern’s house, was where I grew up and spent a large part of 60 years of my life. It was an old 1755 farmhouse which was the hub of our farm. As we grew up, we heard about how the Widow Tracy, a first inhabitant, was allowed to live out her days there after Mr. Tracy died. My father was a descendant of the Tracy family. Just post-Civil War my Great-great Grandfather George Kern bought the farm, passed it to his son William, then to my Grandfather Frank, then to my father Donald.

My father lived there until his death in 1998. My mother lived for another five years, then it came to me and my 3 siblings. Since none of us intended to farm, it was sold. The poor old house went through 10 years of vandalism and neglect until it was recently torn down.

That was a sad time as I saw my mother’s curtains flapping out through broken windows, and then walls and a chimney came down. Shrubs that were generations old were ripped out and dumpsters filled with debris. The workmen wondered who I was because I frequently stopped by to watch, so I introduced myself. It was a mixture of many emotions through those days. I was curious to see the structure and how it was built. Read more…

INSIDE THE OUTDOORS: Virus outbreak won’t change deer season regs

THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL Conservation is monitoring the range and extent of Epizootic Hemorrhagic Disease, (EHD) on local deer populations but does not anticipate changes to harvest regulations this season.

EHD is a viral disease of white-tailed deer transmitted in late summer/early fall by biting midges (“no-see-ums”). It’s not spread directly from deer to deer and humans cannot be infected by contact with deer or bites from midges. Dead deer are not a source of infection as the virus does not survive long in carcasses. Affected deer may appear oblivious to human activity, wandering about tending to seek water.

The DEC said hunters experiencing an outbreak of EHD, “…are concerned that the deer population cannot handle additional hunting harvest. Some hunters have inquired about the need for changes to the hunting season including curtailing the use of deer management permits (DMPs; antlerless deer tags) in the affected areas. DEC appreciates this concern, but the current EHD outbreak does not justify such actions.” Read more…

GREEN THOUGHTS: Kudzu comes closer

WHEN YOUR FRIENDS ARE SCIENTISTS, you get some funny emails. While driving through semi-rural New Jersey last weekend, near where we both grew up, Randy spotted a huge infestation of kudzu. His photos to me contained vivid images of a vine-covered landscape and a message with seven exclamation points. As a weed scientist, he’s expected to get excited about errant plants, but even John Q. Public knows that “the weed that ate the South” shouldn’t be in Yankee territory.

In the pantheon of problem plants brought here from faraway places, kudzu (Pueraria montana var. lobata) is often the most reviled. Displayed as a wonder of the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, it was initially promoted as an ornamental vine. In the early 20th century, Federal officials, nursery owners and journalists promoted it as a livestock food and soil conservation plant. Farmers weren’t all that enthusiastic, but the government planted three million acres to show off kudzu’s virtues.

Unfortunately, no one considered that the ability to grow quickly, in many soil types, might be a vice. By the 1950s, with kudzu growing up through trees, across fields, and over cars and buildings, awareness of this plant’s monstrous potential become apparent. Growing at a rate of up to one foot per day, and over 60 feet in length, the hairy vines can make mounds eight feet deep. Read more…

THROUGH THE WOODS: Bald-faced hornets

THE WIND HAS BEEN STRONG the past few days, shaking down leaves, pine needles, and other materials. On a back road in a bare tree was quite a find, a huge paper wasp nest of the common bald-faced hornet. They are not really hornets, but a type of wasp called Dolichovespula maculata. This wasp is black with bonze wings, and the face is white with black eyes. There are a few white bands on the abdomen, and it is quite pretty.

The nest had enough weight to bend the branch down to a level where it was visible. At first it appeared that leaves had been driven into the outside of the nest. On closer inspection (with binoculars) the nest had been constructed around the leaves of the branch and some were still alive and attached inside to the branch. The hornets had very securely anchored their nest to this rather thin branch.

The shape of the nest is interesting because the design keeps the water out and forces it off the outside layers. The entrance/exit hole is near the bottom. A queen bald-faced hornet that has overwintered makes the paper nest in spring (April to May) and constructs it from wood, bark and other vegetation and her saliva. Then several cells are made, and an egg laid in each to start the new colony of sterile female workers for the season. Read more…

THROUGH THE WOODS: Collecting hickory nuts

AS I GREW UP, my maternal grandfather, Frank Wambach (Gramp), followed his rule of taking me along to help with whatever had to be done. He was one of 10 children and, like most of the Town of Austerlitz residents, they farmed and made use of whatever was seasonal to eat. He said back then you had to plan for winter and store or preserve food. There were no supermarkets, and there was little money to buy things except those that couldn’t be produced on the farm, like sugar and flour. Some of their grain was taken to Spencertown and ground at a water powered mill along the Punsit Creek.

In the fall he taught me to gather nuts, usually shag bark hickory and butternut. The cooler fall days had beautiful blue skies, a crunch of leaves underfoot, and the occasional flock of geese calling overhead. Squirrels were hunted for their meat and to keep them from getting the nuts away from us. We mostly got hickory nuts because there were more of them and were somewhat easier to process.

A row of hickory trees grew along a stone wall west of the barns and I wish I had asked if he had planted them. We picked up bushel baskets of them. Back home they were taken upstairs in the house and spread out on the back landing to dry. When the outer hickory husks dried, opened and were removed, the hard, buff-colored nuts remained to finish drying. Read more…