All posts by alicemg2013

Taconic State Park, New York – Copake Falls

Around this time last year, I blogged about camping in New York State at Schodak Island State Park. This year we went back to Copake Falls, which we had last visited in 2011. The campground was slightly disappointing, but we had a great time.  Food and friends – the perfect combination. My thanks to BJC for the arrangements!

It didn’t rain!

Our fellow campers were pleasant, and observed quiet hours conscientiously.

Bird watchers reported many sightings, but the most interesting natural phenomenon was a fungus called “dead mans fingers”. This picture from Google Images gives you an idea of what we saw.

 

Dead mans fingers

 

Very strange! And so small (1/2 inch high) I could have missed it. It thrives on dead vegetation and falls in the category of decomposers, along with mushrooms. What would we do without them??

Sometimes I wonder how much longer I will continue to camp. Getting organized is so much work… Then I join my friends, and have so much fun.

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“Expensive Habits” and other books by Peter Mayle

Expensive Habits

Expensive Habits is an amusing discussion of the ways you can spend LOTS of money, if you have it.

Other Peter Mayle books I have read:

  • A Year in Provence
  • Toujours Provence
  • Encore Provence
  • Hotel Pastis: A Novel of Provence

This could be tedious, but Mayle is so charming it’s easy to accept his obsession with the south of France. His descriptions of the countryside are so beautiful. But his best prose is saved for food and wine.

Definitely an author for travelers!

Sahara Sands – “Frog Slog”

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If you Google “Sahara Sands” you will find various businesses, but you won’t find anything about the patch of State (NJ) owned land I visited last Tuesday evening.

A “frog slog” is a specialized nature walk. This one was sponsored by the Great Egg Harbor River Watershed Association, and took place as darkness fell. Around 16 people of varied ages attended. Most (but not all) were dressed for swampy conditions and insect pests. Many carried nets, and there were two portable aquaria.

We were told the walk would be conducted on the principles of CPR. Not the usual medical CPR, but rather

  • Catch
  • Photograph
  • Release

Frogs are, after all, vertebrates, and some are protected by law. We spent a few minutes listening to recordings of frog calls.

We walked along a sand road and crossed through woods to a large, shallow pond. Those wearing high boots slogged out into the pond. The excitement began almost immediately. It was a perfect frog hunting night – warm and humid. Five or six species could be heard singing loudly at any one time. Various specimens were netted and photographed, along with insects, insect larvae and tadpoles.

On our way back, a large bullfrog was caught. In the net, its familiar deep call (jug-o-rum, jug-o-rum) changed to a pathetic whimper, sounding like a human child! We turned him loose, and off he swam.

WHY a frog walk? Because frogs are interesting, ecologically valuable and threatened by development. A frog walk is also a way of asserting the importance of Sahara Sands and other places that support wildlife like frogs. One of the “competing uses” for this land is recreation using off road vehicles (ORVs). Such use is incompatible with protection of wildlife. ORVs tear up the marshes and destroy native plants. The damage is largely irreversible.

At Sahara Sands the conflict between these two uses has not been resolved, and it HAS been politicized.

The more people who understand frogs and enjoy this wonderful PUBLICLY OWNED natural site, the better.

Photos by W Cromartie.

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“The Mountain Midwife” by L. Eakes and “The Secrets of Midwives” by S. Hepworth

How did I end up reading two books about midwives in the same month? Better not to speculate…

The first of these books was not worth the time it took to read it. Eakes is described (by Wikipedia) as a “romance author”. She does not do well by the genre. Her characters are relatively one dimensional. She’s got some kind of Christian/family values “agenda” going on which I found annoying.

The Secrets of Midwives was better. There are two main themes:

  • The joy and wonder of birth
  • The power of secrets, both to protect and to injure

Carrying these threads through three generations, Hepworth writes a gripping tale. Some of the romance was a bit trite, but overall this was a good read.

“Green Mars” by Kim Stanley Robinson

After swearing off Robinson’s Mars trilogy because the books are too long, I jumped only 6 weeks later into Green Mars. Red Mars ended with a failed attempt by the Martian colony to “liberate” itself from earth.

Green Mars takes place roughly a generation later with many of the same characters. Mars has been altered drastically, and it’s exploitation as a source of strategic minerals is galloping along. But there’s an underground of rebels, including Mars born children and non-conformists of all ages. The books end with a deus ex machine plot twist which isn’t worthy of good literature.

Once again, Robinson spends an inordinate amount of time describing the geography of Mars. It’s interesting to me that he can picture the planet in so much detail, but he writes on for paragraph after paragraph, page after page.

I thought about other authors who put lots of descriptive geography into their books. One is Arthur Upfield, who wrote the Inspector Napoleon Bonoparte Mystery series, which is located in Australia and ran to 20 books. His stories, taking place at varied locations, are greatly enhanced by his descriptions of terrain. Upfield makes me want to get to Australia as soon as possible. His books are not long. The geographic descriptions are tucked in quite succinctly.

“Chasing Heisenberg – The Race for the Atomic Bomb” by Michael Joseloff

Chasing Heisenberg: The Race for the Atom Bomb (Kindle Single)

This book appeals to two audiences:

  • World War II buffs
  • Readers interested in the history of science and technology

I studied chemistry, so I’m familiar with the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, published in 1927. When dealing with subatomic particles, you can’t know both the location and the wavelength. (I think that’s it.) I even studied quantum mechanics. Heavy going… Heisenberg’s research contributed to the “atomic age” in which we live.

Theoretical physics might have remained an obscure scientific obsession, but as World War II proceeded, it became a vital matter of Allied security to find out if Hitler might deploy an atomic weapon. Heisenberg, a loyal German, was at the head of the German atomic effort. Hence, the Alsos Mission, a military attempt to capture certain German scientists (before the Russians) and learn how far their research had progressed.

Equally interesting were descriptions of the Manhattan Project (America’s first nuclear reactor) and Los Alamos (where our nuclear weapons were developed.)

This narration reminds us that, when it was happening, the outcome of World War II seemed uncertain.

“Spider Woman’s Daughter” and “Rock With Wings” by Anne Hillerman

Spider Woman's Daughter (A Leaphorn and Chee Novel)Rock with Wings (A Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Novel)

I’m very happy to say that Anne Hillerman lives up to the standard set by her much-published father, Tony Hillerman. Ms Hillerman adopted her father’s characters (Leaphorn, Chee and Manuelito) to write more mysteries set in the Navaho Nation located around the Four Corners area of the American Southwest.

Tony Hillman, who died in 2008, was exceptional because he wrote about Navaho life from an insider’s perspective, though he had no native blood. He also left behind a wonderful autobiography, Seldom Disappointed.

Spider Woman’s Daughter focused on tribal police officer Bernadette Manuelito, wife of Jim Chee. Chee had been forced to chose between Navaho life and “mainstream” America. Still finding their way, the couple has come down close to traditional Navaho life.

Anne Hillman’s first two novels are brisk and appealing, and she has published two more since Rock with Wings came out in 2015. Her writing background is in journalism, and she doesn’t waste words. I hope she keeps writing. I visited the Southwest many years ago, and hope to get back there before too long.