Saturday, September 29, 2007

Apple Time

Apples are a big crop in my region, with orchards blanketing the hillsides south of the city. Picking is a seasonal ritual that keeps us city folk tied to the land, in some marginal way, at least. We can drive out to the farms, ride a tractor into the fields, and feel a part of things. I swear it used to be a hay ride into the orchards, but somewhere along the way, they switched to empty carts behind a tractor. Too many allergy complaints, I wonder?

We went to the big farm, the Apple Empire, not because their apples are any better, but rather for the sheer expansiveness of the orchards. Apples for miles and miles and miles. Of course with this beautiful weather, it was a madhouse. Sheriffs were out directing traffic, and the gift shop so crowded one could barely move. We picked Macs, but ventured into the shop for honey crisps, cider, and donuts. I should have got some cheese curds, too.

Apparently honey crisps are a relatively new variety in these parts, and pick-your-own orchards aren't available yet. I suspect the professionals are gentler on the trees than us weekenders. I couldn't believe what some of the kids were getting away with out in the orchards: throwing apples, breaking branches, and running roughshod. My parents would never have tolerated such destructive behavior. Anyway, we sampled the honey crisps last time we were at the Apple Empire, and they are definitely tasty.

So I'll be eating a lot of apples in the next few days. I don't usually cook anything with them, just crunch them up fresh. What do you do with your apples? Any good recipes I should try?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Back to the Wetlands I Go

I leave tomorrow morning for another block of field work. This time I will not be back until Thursday night. I am going to get seriously behind on my internetting with all this travel. It kind of makes a girl covet a laptop.

I had a rough weekend, spending much of the time in a haze of bleh. Yup, I got SodaBoy's cold all right, with a vengeance. I would blame it all entirely on the cranky rodent syndrome that was in full effect on Friday, except I clearly was exposed to some real live germs. Tomorrow morning I get to sleep in at least, while I wait for the rest of my crew to drive in from another office. Hopefully that will be enough to push me back onto the side of wellness.

In lieu of actual content, I will instead share these recent photos of the kitties. We took them out back yesterday, and they absolutely loved the woods. And who can blame them?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Strapping on the Feedbag

I am going to be doing fieldwork tomorrow and Friday, delineating wetlands up in the north woods. I couldn't be more thrilled. Aside from the fact that any field day beats any office day, we've been having the most beautiful weather this week. Plus, the bugs are gone already. It should be a great couple of days.

Many of my years of fieldwork have been conducted alone, just me and the woods. That is actually how I like it best. I see a hell of a lot more wildlife that way, for sure. It is strange to become reacquainted with working with other humans. Delineating wetlands works best in teams, and I like my coworkers. That is not the issue. However, they do have strange eating habits that I find utterly inadequate for the demands of actually working.

A typical day of fieldwork for these folks involves stopping on the way to the site, and stocking up on gas station food: seeds and nuts, granola bars, meat sticks, those weird orange crackers, chips, candy bars. They fill the pockets of their field vests with this junk, and feed on it all day, never eating a proper meal. I find this utterly mind boggling. It seems to be part of the culture here, particularly with some of the men.

Since we'll be working out of a motel, I can't operate on my normal methodology, which involves the advance preparation of honest to goodness food. I might make a big batch of pasta salad (Italian dressing, not mayo) or tabouli, and pack it all week, stocking my cooler each morning with other goodies like fruits and veggies. Those might get stuffed in the pocket of the field vest. Definitely not pop tarts.

The motel closest to our field site, where I stayed last week, had a great continental breakfast, with lots of packable items to take along. Unfortunately they are booked up this week, and we are staying elsewhere, a great unknown. I have a sandwich ready to pack in my cooler tomorrow. We better do better than seeds and nuts on Friday, though, or I will be one cranky little rodent.

Monday, September 17, 2007

New Checks

I paid some bills this weekend, and for the first time since we moved here, I didn't scratch the old address off the top of the check and pen in the new one. It felt like I was forgetting something, like it was incomplete without my initials up top. I know most people probably just order new checks when they move, but not me. I did break down and pay to get a new driver's license with the correct address, but checks? Nope. I just kept using the old ones for 16 months until they were gone. I did this last time we moved, too.

Does everyone do this? Or have I crossed the invisible line from cheap to nutty?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Weekend Roundup

SodaBoy has brought home his first cold of the year, so he was pretty much out of commission all weekend. Schools are such dreadfully germy places. Now we shall see if I can avoid the cold through sheer determination. Repeat after me, I will not get sick, I will not get sick, I will not get sick.

Yesterday was cool and rainy off and on. Nadine and I squeezed in a trip to the farmer's market after a three week hiatus, so we're back to eating well. I so missed those salads! The shit in the bags in the grocery store? Meh. Today was nicer. I took myself on a walk to Stormwater Park, and found a few nice shots. It can be challenging to find inspiration in a place so frequently traveled. Today there was big sky, dramatic dark clouds, but my favorites didn't end up featuring that too prominently. Except maybe in the reflections.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Excuses, Excuses

I developed a wretched sort of crick in my shoulder early this week that is variously sending shooting pain up into my neck and down the right side of my spine. Although quite unpleasant, the pain is not debilitating for the most part, but sitting at the computer seems to aggravate it, especially the mousing action. What with traveling three days this week for work and spending the other day at the desk writing reports, I haven't felt up to much evening computing.

Instead, I have been vegging out on the couch with the heating pad. Today it felt a little better, despite driving 268 miles, which is odd, since driving all day often leads to shoulder cramping. Maybe it was all the ibuprofen I gobbled up, six so far today. I think it's time to re-up, though, as the muscles seem to be seizing up again. The last dose was about six hours ago, so I am not sure if the ibuprofen is wearing off, or if the computing is escalating the pain. Either way, I think I better wrap up this sorry whine-fest.

Anyone have any advice for dealing with shoulder pain?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Adirondack Photolog

All week I've been meaning to post a few more photos from our Adirondack trip. I have such a fondness for the place. I have been busy though, with a 12+ hour work day that included driving 500 miles, and a full day of volunteering on my feet all day, among other things. This upcoming week will have me out of town for work for a few days, so I'm feeling like it is now or never for sharing the rest of the camping photos.

After climbing Esther, the rest of our time was spent in a more leisurely fashion. We took early morning walks to the meadow:

And stopped along scenic roadsides to snap photos:

We saw the foliage just starting to turn, as on this hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) that I shot from below to get the backlit, solar flare effects:

We hiked in to a couple of secluded ponds:

Owen Pond

Copperas Pond

And along the beautiful AuSable River:

We also drove up the Whiteface Memorial Highway, and rode the elevator through the mountain core right to the summit. The toll road and castle at the top are Depression era WPA projects. It is such a different summit experience than actually climbing for oneself, but interesting nonetheless.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Summiting Esther

Esther was the the target, the peak I had selected before driving up north, the peak I had obsessed about on the couch at home, poring over the trail guide, caressing the topo, and quizzing my Dad, who had climbed the same route a few year back with SM. After dropping the kittens off with the folks, we finally hit the road later than planned, and went straight to the campground instead of stopping for supplies first. So after the tents were set up, and the mattress inflated, we headed back into town. We grabbed slices of pizza that we ate while shivering in the mountain mist, then headed to the grocery for breakfast and trail food. I wanted no distractions in the morning: I wanted to hit the trail first thing.

Morning came sunny and bright, and we snarfed our cold camp breakfasts, loaded up the day packs, and headed out down the bumpy road. We were camped at South Meadow, a primitive site in the heart of the High Peaks, but Esther is 10 miles north or so, up by Whiteface. We parked at the ASRC, on the right side of the exit drive, as instructed in the book. Esther is officially "trailless," which simply means the trails aren't maintained, but aside from some initial confusion, the way was fairly clear. A small foot path started right by the where we'd parked, with a plastic coated sheet of printer paper tacked to a tree announcing that this wasn't the red trail.

Not to be deterred, we followed the non-red trail and it led us where we wanted to go, to the old t-bar lift trail up Marble Mountain. Reading this section of the trail guide, I had imagined something much different, something open and grassy. The path looked much like any other mountain trail, wooded and narrow and rocky and steep. The only thing that revealed it as our old ski slope was occasional blocks of concrete that must have supported the poles. After about a mile of this with nary a peek of a view, we crested Marble Mountain. The guide book did not prepare us for the majesty of this waypoint.

View from Marble Mountain

We stopped to soak in the vistas and shoot exposure after exposure of sheer glory. I had a snack of some cherry tomatoes and consulted my beloved maps before we moved on to join the real red trail. A brand new shiny sign had been installed at the junction of the herd path and the red trail, so new that loose sand from the post-hole diggers was still evident sprinkled over the leaf litter. The red trail is marked and maintained, and moved upward in a steady ascent through the birches and into the balsam. How I love the smell of balsam in the sun!

Mount Esther, from Lookout Mountain

After rising to the plateau of Lookout Mountain, and being teased with more views through the stunted balsams, another new sign pointed our way onto the herd path to Esther. The last mile or so was a very nice hike, with little vertical gain remaining. We had the summit entirely to ourselves, and reveled in that, removing our wicking shirts and hiking boots, draping the sweaty socks and tees to dry in the sun. No shirt, no shoes, no problem.

We ate our trail lunches, admired the summit marker, and shot dozens more photos, before conceding that it was time to pack up and out. Descent was uneventful, which is always good. In an entire day of hiking, we saw just two other humans, and the weather was spectacular. It was a perfect day for climbing, and a perfect climb.

Esther - Elevation: 4240 feet, Order of Height: 28, Order of Ascension: 9.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Two Tent System

My last minute vacation request was granted, allowing SodaBoy and I the good fortune to spend the past few days up in the mountains. We arrived at the campgrounds shortly before sunset Thursday night. After much waffling, we selected a site and set up our base. We have developed quite the methodology for car camping over the years, and from my observances of fellow campers, it seems rather unusual. I present to you our two tent system:

The inner tent is your typical small dome tent; it has served us well on numerous backpacking trips over the years. It roughly approximates waterproof-ness, but gets damp around the edges when rained upon for several days straight. When planning a car camping trip a few years back despite a questionable weather forecast, we decided to bolster our defenses.

The outer tent has no floor, and is not nearly so well-designed or well-made as my real tent. It is big and heavy and bulky. Set-up is counter intuitive and often generates much cursing. It also requires considerable feats of strength, and I cannot manage it alone.

However, it is definitely worth the trouble. First of all, it serves as a good luck charm. It never ever rains if we use the two tent system. Secondly, we lay tarps down under the real tent, and they extend forward to make a rug, enormously reducing the amount of detritus tracked into the tent. Thirdly, there is room for a couple chairs and the bags, making a pleasant little dressing/sitting area.

On the same expedition to the outdoor store that yielded the outer tent, we picked up a big ole air mattress, and now sleep in comfort. I guess it's no wonder we haven't been backpacking lately. Car camping is just too damn luxurious. This was our home base for the last few days, and we headed out for day hikes from there.

More photos to come...