Tag Archives: land use

Schodak Island State Park, Schodak Landing, New York

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I didn’t pick this campground! Flood plain location, built on dredge spoil, near two rail lines AND under a turnpike bridge. Really, who decided to put a state park here? Just as well I didn’t know all of that in advance.

Schodak Island State Park turned out to be great! For starters, it’s close to the mighty Hudson River, so beautiful and historic. The State Park is relatively new, so the bathhouses are nicer than anything I saw in other New York state park campgrounds. The bathhouses were helpfully marked “shelter here in case of inclement weather”. I’ve experienced enough “inclement weather” in my camping trips to be very grateful for clear advice.

After flush toilets and hot showers, what makes a good campground? At Schodak Island, the campsites have been improved with a layer of sand, so securing tent stakes is easy. The camping area is blessed with tall trees and wildflowers. With only 66 sites, the campground felt cozy.

The highway and train bridges near the site are very, very high. I never heard the highway traffic. I heard the train engines moving past, but only once in three days did I hear a shrill whistle.

Management and staffing are important. At this state park, facilities were clean and functional. Our main contact was a friendly campground host, who not only answered questions but also delivered wood and ice for a nominal sum, whenever we wanted it. Delivering wood is smart management, as scavenging by campers can be destructive. The ice delivery was a GREAT luxury in a campground that’s relatively isolated. If there was a convenience store within 5 miles, I didn’t spot it.

So how did we spend our time in the woods? The usual… eat and talk… talk and eat. Plenty of casual hiking and bird watching. Bicycling for the more ambitious.

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A little north of the State Park, I saw my first pileated woodpecker! (Photo from Wikipedia. I was in a moving car…)

Some of us are diehard public transit enthusiasts, and Schodak Island is, in fact, quite readily accessible, by (you guessed it) TRAIN. There’s a station about 20 minutes to the north (Albany Rensselaer) and another a little further south (Hudson). Three campers took advantage of this.

So I take back some of what I’ve said about New York state campgrounds in the past. (It wasn’t nice.) I’ll be happy to return in the future.

PS! Almost forgot something very nice! We found a shelf of books on the outside of the bathhouse – a “free library”, so if it rains and you forgot to bring something to read, there it is! The reaction of most of our group was “I should have brought some books”.

“Arsenic with Austen” by Katherine Bolger Hyde

I finally found fiction to relax with! Wait, I shouldn’t say it that way… The heroine is a Professor of English (at Reed College in Oregon, no less) and she would disapprove of a preposition at the end of a sentence.

Emily Cavanaugh is an appealing protagonist, and the frequent literary references (ranging from the Old Testament to JK Rowling) in this mystery amused me. When stressed, Emily retreats into the worlds of Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope. When confronted with murder, she relies on Dorothy Sayers. Emily is a bibliophile who suffers from a level of technophobia even worse than my own. She would never condescend to blog. Horrors! Such an ugly neologism!

Two of the themes of this book are old grudges and land development. It works. There’s romance, too.

This is Ms. Bolger’s first novel and I look forward to more. She is calling her series “Crime with the Classics”. I don’t think she can go wrong.

“The Shepard’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape” by James Rebanks

This autobiographical book is magical! Rebanks was born into a sheep farming family in England’s Lake District. Farmers and their livestock (mostly sheep) are tied to their land by intense historical and cultural bonds. The sheep are raised on land too steep and rough for other agriculture (and possibly for other human use). Most of the sheep fend for themselves several months of the year, taking advantage of summer pastures held as “common” land, now generally owned by the British National Trust. Sheep are raised for meat, though much of their economics is determined by their breeding value. I was surprised to learn that wool no longer has much market value. The sheep must be shorn for their own health, but sometimes the wool is discarded, not being worth transport to market. I wonder if wool may regain its value in the future.

Rebanks builds his narrative around the seasons. Winter in the Lake District sounds brutal. It would be hard even if one wasn’t keeping livestock out of doors.

The Shepard’s Life was not written as a critique of the English educational system, but it can and should be read as such. Local teachers, no doubt with good intentions, told farm kids they should “think big”, consider careers off the farm and out in the “wider” world. The cumulative impact of these statements was to devalue the lives and business enterprises of the farm families.

Of his school’s headmistress, he says “The idea that we, our fathers, and mothers might be proud, hardworking, and intelligent people doing something worthwhile or even admirable was beyond her”.

Children became alienated from school by the time they reached their early teens, and they “acted out” with rudeness and delinquency. Rebanks stopped attending school before the age of 16. He was completely determined to follow in the footsteps of his beloved grandfather, who taught him “sheparding”, a way of life on the land handed down through generations and generations of farmers.

Rebanks’ father was “semiliterate” and scornful of education, but his mother wanted him to finish school. She valued reading. Once out of school, Rebanks became an avid reader. Eventually he attended night classes to prepare for university. His interview with Oxford included a heated argument with a tutor. Most of the time that he was enrolled, he returned home regularly to work on the farm.

Sheep farming in the Lake District provides only a subsistence income. Like many farmers, Rebanks has worked at other jobs in order to keep farming. He serves as a consultant to UNESCO on ecotourism. He jumped into the social media scene with a Twitter account in 2012. It was a surprise runaway hit, leading to an article in The Atlantic magazine and then to the book. Does this mean I should join Twitter?? (No… too little time!)

The lifestyle occupied by the Lake District sheep farmers occupies an interesting “niche”. It’s not “indigenous”, like that of the Inuit and other far northern people. It’s a little less secluded than the Amish. It carries all kinds of cultural implications, but doesn’t involve bilingualism.

In using a freely available biological resource, there is some resemblance between Rebanks’ sheparding and the cattle raising described in Bryce Andrews Badluck Way. (See my blog entry dated April 17, 2014.) But the cattle ranching in the American West lacked any cultural context. It was a desperate attempt to wring a profit from a dry, harsh landscape. No wonder Andrews only worked on the ranch for a single year. Nonetheless, each of these farmers has a complex relationship to a landscape and its ecosystems. I would love to hear a conversation between the two of them!

Read this book, brush up on William Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter, and if you get to England, put the Lake District onto your itinerary.

Lillian Beckwith – an English woman writes about Scotland

I was browsing my shelves, desperate to find something that could be discarded. We have too many books! We part with them very reluctantly… 

This week I am taking care of cats and house for vacationing neighbors, who have even more books than we do. I looked at their shelves and wondered – what if I moved some of my books into their house? would they notice? Probably not… A silly idea!

So maybe I will buy another bookshelf.

I found three books to consider for disposal, paperbacks from Lillian Beckwith’s seven book “Skye” series. These are almost fictional memoirs from the author’s time in the West of Scotland, where she went for rest after an illness. She was so taken by the quiet life of a croft village  that she moved in and did some farming. Her accounts of the people, agriculture and landscape are vivid and often amusing. These books have been in and out of print and I don’t think Kindle editions are available.

If in a quibblesome frame of mind, one might feel that Beckwith took advantage of her (generous and eccentric) neighbors by writing about them. However, these memoirs were written two generations ago, and I think we can assume they were innocently written and published.

These memoirs are notable because they describe “croft” farming, a land use system found only in Scotland. Crofters raise some “private” crops but pasture cattle on commonly owned land. A primary landowner (laird) carries some responsibility for the community. This is a way to use land that is too steep, too rocky and too poor for conventional farming. In the past, crofting provided a meager living. The system has evolved and is still practiced in Scotland.

Beckwith also wrote an equal number of novels, some children’s books and a cookbook. I hope to read the novels at some point. I encountered a review describing her work as a “comfort read”. Yes! Now, does anyone want these three books?