August 9, 2015 - Raquette Lake, NY


    Sunset on Raquette Lake, August 9, 2015

    The Adirondacks are a temperate rain forest, so it rains heavily and often.   The forecast of 50% chance of rain could pretty much be made for almost any day of the summer for years in advance.   In the winter, you could forecast 50% chance of snow and be just as correct as the weather channel TV performers.  We were delighted to have a beautiful sunset for our first night of camping on this far northern, central Adirondack Mountain lake.  That night I laid out on the beach and counted shooting stars with Chris, Rachel, Kathryn and Kathryn's boyfriend, Will.   The sky was moonless and cloudless.   With the only light pollution being from the few tenting sites behind us and from a few isolated permanent camps on this mostly pristine lake, the sky was black, providing sharp contrast to the abundant sky scape.  There were millions of stars visible and I called to mind that many of the tiny dots of lights were entire, far distant galaxies.   Rachel seems to have the best eyesight and saw the most shooting stars, eight on the first night.  I only saw two, but one of them created a wide stream of light across the entire sky, before burning out.   Three of our five nights were completely clear and on the last night, Chris and I counted shooting stars again.  Before we got cold and had to retreat to the tent, we each saw five or six.   I've gone to the Adirondacks many times, growing up in central NY, but never before have I been treated to such wonderful nighttime skies.  Later we found out that these were an unusually high number of meteors and part of a meteor shower that had been anticipated by astronomers.


August 10 - The Common Loon

    Cold heart of Raquette Lake, your red eyes burn

    Through hazy haunts still dim at break of day.

    One foot splayed out, the other kicks to turn

    You round about to snap another prey.


    You hunt unseen by creatures trapped by air.

    They only see you rest between your dives

    And, hearing nighttime calls, become aware

    That something strange and wild has touched their lives.


    By day, your lake has food for chicks and mate.

    At night, to her you call, "I'm over here".

    The summer wanes.  You'll leave as fall grows late

    To live apart for one more lonely year.


    Stars burn above the lake.  Dark sky.  No moon.

    Ashore a man awake.  A cry.  The loon.


Common Loon, Raquette Lake, NY, August 10, 2015

    These birds are big and heavy.  Averaging nine pounds, they can get up to 29 pounds.  They are unusual among birds in having solid bones. These make them heavy enough to dive with just a flick of their feet.  They float on the top of the water, search out a fish below, then, with barely a ripple, duck under the surface.   They can stay down for three minutes - a local fisherman told me they can stay down for fifteen minutes, but he's the same fisherman who told me about the 150 pound Lake Trout someone caught ice-fishing at the lake the previous winter.  The current state record for this species is 41 pounds out of Lake Erie, so my source is a little shaky.  However, he is correct that the lakes are clean, significantly recovered from acid rain, and full of both big fish and little fish.  This is huge news to me, who fished here successfully as a pre-teen, only to find the same spots completely devoid of fish a decade later.

    Raquette Lake is the most southern breeding ground for the Common Loon and it is ideal.   The six mile long lake has 99 miles of shoreline, which means lots of secluded back bays to use as private nesting sites and choice hunting sites.   Loons hunt exclusively by day, so they need the water to be crystal clear to find their prey.  Under the water, they are reported to be as good a swimmer as any other flying bird.   They can execute a sudden 180 degree flip turn by thrusting out one webbed foot, then kicking the other foot really hard.  They usually swallow the captured fish under water.  I used Wikipedia, Cornell Ornithology web site, and some web-sites dedicated to loon conservation for my loon info.  One of them said that a pair of adults and their two offspring are estimated to eat a half ton of fish in the twelve week summer season.   That seems like another fish story, because that would be about thee pounds per bird per day.   I'm not sure how much they really eat, but it will be a big number.

    They pair up for life, usually for five years.   If their mate doesn't show up at their summer site, the adult will then soon pair up with a different bird.  They winter along the ocean coast, or in a few large open lakes that don't freeze over.  I've seen them the last few winters fishing off the New Jersey and Delaware coasts.  They can fly hundreds of miles in one shot when migrating and have been clocked at over 70 miles per hour.   Although they are strong fliers, they need a long runway to take off.  If they land on a too small pond, or worse, a wet parking lot, they can get stranded.

    The most memorial way that these birds have entered the human consciousness is through their haunting cries at night.   The long three note call is a contact call that they use to locate each other at night.   The other frequently heard call at night on the lake is the tremolo call that sounds lake an insane laugh of an hysterical woman.  That call is the male staking out his territory.


August 11 - swimming, kayaking, mountain climbing, mountain biking

    The morning that we saw the loons swim by our camp site at Golden Beach was the best weather of the trip.  Chris and I swam at the camp site and later drove around the Brown Tract Ponds area, while Kathryn, Will, and Rachel went kayaking.  That night it rained really hard and after it dried out, we hiked up Bald Mountain, a short and easy climb that provides a really good view of the Fulton Chain lakes.   Then we explored the villages of Inlet and Old Forge and got a decent meal at the Pied Piper roadside stand, a favorite from when we were kids.  At the base of the dam outlet for Fourth Lake in Old Forge, we found a Great Blue Heron hunting at the edge of the raging current.   Above him at the top of the dam, a little drama played out with a family of Mallards that we kept calling "Bad Parenting".  A mother duck had led her chicks up to a plank at the top of the dam.  They could easily hop over the barrier on the water side, but on the dry side, they were a good six inches below the top of the plank.  They looked trapped.  Worse, they were so focused on eating the vegetation trapped in the rough surface of the dam, that it looked likely that they would tumble off the dam and into the really fast current.  Eventually, one of them did fall off the top of the dam.  He caught himself at the bottom and immediately quickly climbed the almost vertical dam.  Baby ducks must have really sharp toes and strong feet to do that.  The mother duck gave a few loud quacks and the three babies ran to the edge of the dam and up a rock that had been leaned against the plank.  Safe, they swam away.

    The next day was overcast, but good for hiking and bike riding.   Chris and I climbed Blue Mountain while Rachel and Kathryn climbed it twice.  They went up quickly, waited, came down to meet us halfway, then went back up with us.   The view from the fire tower at the top is stunning.  You can see all the lakes in the region and there are mountains in every direction.   Blue Mountain is the highest peak in the central Adirondacks, but it is not one of the 46 High Peaks.  These are all in the northeast corner of the state and some of them are visible from Blue Mountain.

    Will spent the day biking in the Brown Tract Ponds area.  He started at Raquette Lake village, used Uncas Road to get to Eagle, went back to pick up Uncas Trail, got lost, got unlost, biked on trails that are so rough that they would be challenging to hike on, and eventually emerged from the woods at Sagamore.  At one point, he approached a bridge that was tilting to one side.  He stopped before trying to cross, which was fortunate because the surface was so slick that it would have spilled him onto the rocks twenty feet below.   He called his day "expert level mountain biking" and emerged ecstatic but really tired.  It is really hard to tire Will out.  One thing I noticed Will do before he left is worth an additional comment.  Before he started the trip, he thoroughly inspected and tested out his equipment.  That's probably standard and obvious for experienced bikers, but skipping that step is probably a common source of problems for less experienced adventurers.

    We got back together at the camp site, just before a torrential thunder storm.   We waited out the rain again under a screened gazebo that we had erected over a picnic table.   It wasn't luxury, but it wasn't that bad either.  We ate a good meal and played "Flip Cup", a relay race where you chug a beer then flip the cup from an upside down position to land upright.  Rachel and I beat Kathryn and Will in a hard fought and competitive contest.  Now that I think about it, this is probably another example of "Bad Parenting".  Oh well, the ducks survived and so did the humans.


Bad Parenting Number One, Old Forge, NY, August, 2015


Great Blue Heron, Old Forge, NY, August, 2015


third week August - notes on how memory works

    I got this info from "The Shallows, What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains" by Nicholas Carr. 

  • Short term memory only requires chemical enhancements at synapses – takes minutes, while long-term memory requires building of proteins to construct new neural pathways – takes hours to start and days to complete.

  • For long-term memories, they are first built in the hippocampus, then over time built in the region of the brain where the memory came from.  If the process is interrupted, the memory is lost.

  • Internet uses very short and frequently interrupted input, drastically different than input from the natural world or books.  Changes to the brain result.

  • The clock and the map transformed how we conceive of time and space.  Key tools of the mind.  A book originally was written to be read orally and written without punctuation or spaces between words.  They were read aloud.  Silent reading is relatively recent.  Books and pages transformed our brains.

  • Oral tradition to written word allowed uninterrupted concentration.  Internet designed to provide highly interruptible and short bursts of input.  Seems like a regression.  That’s what they all said (after every technological advance began to supplant a status quo).

    There is a lot to think about here, but just scratching the surface, there is a practical application for learning that is generally useful.   Since short term memory only holds a limited amount of info and long term memory is a relatively lengthy process requiring the movement of info from short to long term, filling up the short term memory repeatedly without sufficient breaks is a waste of time.   Only the last batch will get completely processed.   Experiments documented in the book prove this.   So the proper technique is to do learning is as an iterative process, absorbing appropriate-sized batches of info with appropriate-length breaks in between.  The size of the batch and the length of the breaks are individual parameters that each person needs to discover by self-testing.


August 31 - Exton Park walk

    Early in the morning it was rainy, so I didn't get out until late morning.  There were the usual local resident types of birds, including some really pretty Gold Finches.  A Great Blue Heron had the pond all to himself.   In a bush off the Inner Trail, two juvenile or female Common Yellowthroats were hopping about.  They had the drab brownish top and clear, yellow breasts and throats.  I was patient enough to get some reasonably clear pictures of them, but not any better than the pictures from Stroud Preserve.  It was a nice way to end the summer season.  Rachel and Kathryn are back to school.  Chris started work (school nurse) again.  Next week I'll start my fall season with the first of several trips to the Cape May region in New Jersey.