Our Readers Write
Spring's on the Wing!
March 31, 2009
Spring is winging its way toward Canoe Country. Literally. The morning sky resounds to the gabble of northbound geese. And we all know what spring's return means—rain. April showers will soon green up the drab winter landscape, and it won't be long before wetsuited (and drysuited) paddlers are squelching cheerfully over muddy portage trails to enjoy the snowmelt-fed runoff. What a joy it is to see the season of hard water drawing to a close!
Of course, paddlers aren't the only creatures rejoicing in the sun's return. Chipmunks are already out and about, scurrying over the landscape and stretching their legs after the Long Sleep, while the cries of red-winged blackbirds rouse the silent marshes from their slumbers. Meanwhile, the chickadees and sparrows who stayed on and fought General Winter to a draw on his own ground now have something to sing about.
A lot of mail has also been flying our way since the last "Our Readers Write." Canoeists and kayakers are rousing themselves from their winter torpor. This month's collection of readers' letters reflects the new sense of urgency. There's a little bit of everything here, from thoughts on staying found in the backcountry—with and without batteries—to notes from the field about "the little lives of earth and form," not to mention some timely hints about ways to stay dry in the rain. And letters about food. We all have to eat, right? So there's not a moment to be lost. Let's open the mailbag and get started. After all, this is your place to have your say.
First, though, here's a memo from the In the Same Boat Department of Corrections…
A keen-eyed reader—New Yorker Alan Mapes, wearing his "naturalist's hat"—has caught Tamia with her field guides down. The bur-headed seed case that she identified as a beechnut in a recent column is, in fact, a common burdock. "How ignomonious," as a certain fictional shop assistant was wont to say in similarly embarrassing circumstances. In any event, Tamia has now corrected her errant copy, and to make sure that nothing of this sort happens again, she's also signed up for a Wild Foods Identification course offered by a panel of local authorities: chipmunks, chickadees, and jays. With that sort of expertise on tap, it's bound to be a learning experience.
Thanks again for the heads-up, Alan!
Tamia Nelson and Farwell Forrest, In the Same Boat
A Discourse of Rivers
As an amateur geologist, I could really relate to your article "A Discourse of Rivers"—Scablands and all! Thank you!
As kids we gave our mother fits, doing our hydroengineering projects at the foot of the driveway.
Ithaca, New York
I'm delighted that you enjoyed "A Discourse of Rivers," Mary. Sounds like we share an abiding interest in moving water and its work. But that shouldn't come as much of a surprise, should it? As Richard Fariña rightly observed, in the "well-hilled land of geological pressures and faults" around Ithaca "there is always much rain." And that's where it all starts.
What Killed Dead Pond?
I'm always entertained by your articles, but this time ["Reflections on Water" –Editor] I just have to ask: Why is Dead Pond dead? What ecological anomaly would wipe out the crayfish and ban wildlife from what would appear to be an idyllic setting?
We are fortunate to live (now) on Newfound Lake in New Hampshire, which is one of the cleanest and clearest lakes around, and which has a healthy population of wildlife (including loons and mink/ermine). Growing up, I also lived by a pond—misnamed "Lake"—which, although being murky and muddy and totally revolting, had a similarly healthy wildlife population, including the lowly leech that we'd have to check for immediately after we went swimming in it (50 years ago, that was allowed). It is now so polluted, however, that anglers are warned by signs that it is only catch-and-release. I also remember a man-made farm pond that we used when the natural pond got too disgusting to swim in that was clear and clean—and bone-chillingly cold. I believe we saw polliwogs there and an occasional duck that scurried when the group of us came over the hill, but it had no fish, being spring-fed with no inlet for them to wander into the pond.
Your article stirred some interesting memories and made me again realize the immense diversity of the world of water. Thank you!
It's good to know that you enjoy my articles for Paddling.net, Sue, and I'm glad that "Reflections on Water" triggered so many memories.
Why is Dead Pond dead? The villain in the story, I'm sorry to say, is us. All of us. Like so many other bodies of water in the Adirondacks, Dead Pond suffered from decades of acid precipitation, and as the pH plummeted the aquatic food chain collapsed. The end result? A sort of picture-postcard pond: crystal-clear water, ideal setting, and not a living thing to be seen anywhere.
Happily, the situation is getting better—or at least it's not getting worse—and some of the Adirondack's many "Dead Ponds" are recovering. That said, there are now much larger threats than acid rain to reckon with, and their effects will be felt well beyond Canoe Country.
Storm Kettles Continue to Take Readers by…er…Storm
I was reading your article ["A Storm Kettle Lights My Fire!" –Editor] when I came across this Kelly Kettle® thing. I went straight to the Kelly Kettle website right off Google™. This site has three sizes of kettles plus full kits. I ordered the mid-sized one with the kit. It came in about seven days. Man, will this thing boil water! I took it out for my New Year's Day paddle with two fist-sized bundles of twigs stored inside. Hot coffee on a freezing day, what a joy! I did a dumb thing later, I filled it with water back at the truck for one more cup. I left the rest of the water in the kettle overnight and it froze solid. I brought it inside and let it thaw overnight. No damage and no leaks, but I'll not do that again. This is a fine product and will be in my boat from now on. Thank you for all the information.
Your most welcome, Todd. And it's very good to hear that your Kettle survived its ordeal by freezing. Now that's really cold comfort…
Beating the Bonk at Any Age
Good article about beating the bonk. Now I don't feel so bad. I thought I was the only one feeling my age. Thanks. I enjoy your articles and learn a lot from them.
Corpus Christi, Texas
You're not alone, Pat. No way! Anyone, young or old, can "hit the wall." Of course, those of us who've joined up with the Over the Hill Gang often find that the Wall looms closer—and stands taller—than it used to. Still, when you consider the alternative…
Luckily, there are ways to fight back, and as the next letter makes clear, some of them taste mighty good.
Hudson Bay Bread
Regarding oatmeal bars, check out recipes for Hudson Bay Bread, and you might like to read more on its history here. I've made Bay Bread with and without grinding the quick oats. The bars hold together better when the oats are ground.
When I was in England this summer, my fussy-eating son seemed to live on store-bought flapjacks. He'd have lived on Bay Bread if we'd been able to make it while overseas.
Thanks, Chuck! Sounds mighty good. I'm going to have to give it a try. I think I'll substitute maple syrup for Mapleine, though. You just can't beat the real thing.
Where's the Beef? Meatless Backcountry Meals
Thanks for the great article: "Where's the Beef?" As you already know, a true environmentalist avoids meat, purely for the toll it takes on the planet. I have been vegetarian for over 25 years, but it is not about achieving a particular level or status of eating. I tell everyone that the most important thing is just to cut back on the amount of dairy and meat they consume. Keep up the good work!
Glad you liked "Where's the Beef?" John. I have to admit I was slow to appreciate the virtues of vegetarianism. (I grew up in farm country, where putting meat on the table was—quite literally—a way of life.) The years have broadened my horizons, though, and while I doubt I'll ever go the whole hog, so to speak, meat has already slipped from main-dish to condiment status in our menu. And who knows what the future holds?
One thing's for sure, however: meatless (and dairyless) meals can be delicious. The ingredients travel well, too—an important consideration in the backcountry. It's not often that good sense and good eating go hand in hand, but vegetarian cuisine is one place where this happy combination is the rule rather than the exception.
Keeping Dry in the Rain
Great piece in today's Paddling.net on dealing with the rain ["Singing in the Rain!" –Editor]. Last evening I sat in the stands for a boys Junior Varsity soccer game. It began raining an hour before and ended a few hours after. We had more than an inch of steady rain during the game. However, just because I'm a paddler and camper (and so are a number of other parents) we all stayed pretty dry. The best part was that some of what worked was new gear (an Ultra-Sil™ poncho lived up to its billing) and some very old (a Filson® waxed cotton hat became even more disreputable looking). Reading your article today perfectly reinforced that lesson: keep track of the new stuff out there, but don't forget what "brung ya to the dance."
I've not complimented you before, and that's my error. You are a damn good writer and seem to have a really intuitive ability to hit just what is needed during each season. Thanks for making it and keeping it fun.
Lindsay Wood Davis
Thanks very much for your kind words, Lindsay. And thanks, too, for reaffirming the importance of not discarding the tried and true in favor of the ballyhooed and new—not until the new has demonstrated its superiority, at any rate.
The Upside of Navigating by Downlink
Good Morning, Tamia!
Excellent article on the use of navigation aids ["Either-Or? Traditional Navigation in a Digital World" –Editor].
My GPS gets used once every other year for a few minutes. Southeast Washington state has a huge area called the Palouse. It is an ancient lake bottom (Lake Missoula) that is now wheat farms. Hundreds of miles of unmarked gravel roads run around in the area. Seems like every square mile looks like the other ones out there. It was exactly like being out of sight of land on the Gulf of Mexico. While roaming around out there I would get misoriented on occasion. That is when the GPS really came in as wonderful. Put in the batteries, then let it find itself and tell me where I am—or more specifically, What road am I on? Then my DeLorme maps would take over again and off I would go. A GPS takes a lot of worry about keeping perfectly oriented out of the travels.
What has happened in New Mexico on the BLM land is that the roads do not show on maps frequently. The GPS can get me spotted on a DeLorme map, then the compass can take over for all the volunteer roads. It has been wonderful.
The downside is aging eyes. With the cataract getting bad in the left eye and plain ole aging in the right, seeing the screen requires me to stop the vehicle and pay close attention. That is not possible while driving. As the RV folks have found out, the talking GPS is worthless when out in the boondocking areas of the west.
For what it is worth I find it nice to have the GPS, but a paper map is first choice for this old fat man.
Old Fat Man Adventures
Howdy, Barney. Farwell's experience parallels yours. He, too, discovered the virtues of the GPS while navigating off the map, riding his touring bike down featureless forest tracks and old logging roads, few of which appear on any quad, at any scale. The comparison doesn't stop there, either. He's also joined the ranks of the Cyclops, and the sight in his remaining good eye isn't all that great. "Unsafe at any speed" is now his unofficial motto, which is one reason why he does a lot of exploring on two wheels, hauling a boat in a trailer behind him.
You mention the DeLorme maps. I'm curious. How reliable are they in your neck of the woods? The New York and New England atlases are our constant companions, and while we occasionally discover minor errors, we've yet to find anything better—or handier. Has this also been your experience?
To which Barney responded:
The DeLorme maps seem to be imperfect but the best available. As we all know, any printed map gets outdated quickly near populated areas due to new road construction. Occasionally a DeLorme will show roads that are not public or are not there yet. They do seem to be updated more often than the topo maps I used in the past. Out in West Texas I had a topo map from the US Geological Survey (USGS) that had not been updated in over twenty years.
Which brings us to the next letter…
Ageless Hills, Aging Maps
I really enjoy your In the Same Boat column. It's by far the best thing about the Paddling.net website and well worth reading.
The latest column on maps ["On the Map: Is History Vanishing Before Our Eyes?" –Editor] was interesting. I quite agree with you about the usefulness (or not) of the available [electronic] topo maps out there. But I have a major gripe with the USGS topo maps, too: their age.
You would think that these days with satellites and all the modern tools available to surveyors, that the USGS would update their maps once in a while. But, to use upstate New York as an example, they never seem to have been revised since the 1940s at the latest.
It's hard to believe that the US government doesn't have more modern maps of its own territory. I've known military people whose jobs were to make current maps of other countries just for purposes of targeting cruise missiles, for instance, and they told me they came out to be accurate.
So, if not from the USGS, where can we get current topo maps? The landscape of upstate New York, anyway, has changed a lot since the 1940s, at least when it comes time to navigate cross-country.
Again, I enjoy your writing very much.
I'm both flattered and grateful to learn that you find In the Same Boat useful and interesting, Chris, but I really can't agree that our column is the best thing about Paddling.net. The strength of the site lies in the scope and breadth of its offerings, I think. There's something here for every paddler, whatever his or her age or interest. And I humbly submit that this is a Very Good Thing.
Moving on now to the subject of maps and mapping, your letter struck close to home. We're still using Adirondack quads that were surveyed in the 1950s—a few are even older—and you're right: a lot has changed in the intervening half century. By and large we annotate and correct our USGS maps as we go. We're making increasing use of a portable GPS receiver to speed up the job now, but the process remains time-consuming. Luckily, as a check of TerraServer–USA will show, many New York quads have been updated quite recently. Still, the pace of second-home development is such that any new edition is almost certain to be out of date even before it's printed, and the inevitable uptick in speculative building that's sure to follow the Fed's latest round of "quantitative easing" is bound to accelerate the process. Like it or not, then, if you need up-to-date maps of New York's vanishing backcountry, you may just have to roll your own.
On the other hand, if a scale of 1:150,000 meets your needs, there's always DeLorme. (That scale works out to roughly 2.4 miles to the inch. It's ideal for cycling and fine for planning river trips, but it's not so good for on-water navigation.) We've used successive editions of DeLorme's New York Atlas & Gazetteer™ for years now, and as Barney's letter affirms, DeLorme do a creditable job of keeping abreast of changes. The same can be said of the Adirondack Mountain Club and the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, whose trail maps include much topographic information. And if you're heading into the Park, the Adirondack Paddler's Map is certainly worth a look.
Wade for It!
Me again. I wrote about your wonderful turtle article ["The Courage of Turtles" –Editor]. I thought this one—"Sucker! The Skillful Leech"—might be good to send my granddaughter who is freaked by leeches. Well, it taught me a lot, but I think it would keep her out of the water for the rest of her life. I don't think she could be logical about this even though she is 23. We took her to the Pigeon River one time and let her wade as she asked about leeches. (She did in every body of water we met.) We told her they were only on the US side of the river since we were in Canada.
Anyway, thanks so much for the good information and some good, fun reading.
Loretta Daum Byrne
Oh dear, Loretta. It sounds like your granddaughter is a little too old for you to change her mind, but it MIGHT still be worth a try. Who knows? In any case, it was clever of you to convince her that leeches couldn't cross the border. (Makes sense to me. I suppose they don't have passports.) Better keep her from reading the next letter, though.
Only a Shudder…
I am full of admiration for your fascinating column on a repulsive subject ["The Skillful Leech" –Editor]—and for the accuracy and elegance of your prose. As you may recall from previous correspondence, I am hypercritical about language usage, and am accustomed, unhappily, to finding numerous errors even where one might expect excellence. I am pleased to say that I took exception to only one construction in your handling of complex and difficult material; and even that objection I might have passed by, save that the excellence of your writing suggests that you strive towards (not quite the same thing as striving for) perfection. You write: "…leeches only inspire a shudder of revulsion…"; I may be overly fussy, but might you not have written, "leeches inspire only a shudder…"? The limiting adverb should apply not to "inspire" (i.e. "only inspire") but to its object (i.e., "only a shudder"), and the relocation makes that intent clear.
May I atone for my criticism with a small offering of proverbial wisdom current in Southern Ontario, a little warning jingle for canoeists seduced by idyllic shoreline wading opportunities: beaches mean leeches.
There's no need to atone, Jim. I'm in your debt, and not just for that wonderful ditty about beaches and leeches. A reader with a critical eye is a writer's best friend. And while I do indeed strive towards accuracy—and even achieve it on occasion—I've never before been accused of elegance. But please don't worry. I'm sure I'll get over the shock.
As for my errant construction, I'm afraid you're right on target. I might indeed have written "leeches inspire only a shudder," but I did not, and I regret to say I didn't even consider that more logical alternative. Worse yet, I've no defense to offer—though I suppose I could take refuge in the words of the redoubtable H.W. Fowler. His article on this very subject, aptly entitled "only, adv.: its placing and misplacing," is one of his more… um… elegant exercises in masterful equivocation, managing to both embrace "orthodox placing" and condemn those "physicians who have more zeal than discretion" in their grammatical prescriptions.
Of course, if hard pressed I'd have no choice but to side with the zealous physicians and swallow their prescriptions without complaint. Despite my all-too-frequent transgressions, in my long affair with the English language I remain an orthodoxy at heart.
On the Trail of Slugs in the Black Forest
Thanks for the neat article on slugs ["No Sluggards, These!" –Editor]. When in Germany last summer I was in an area thick with the things, and it's fun to know a little more about them. Here's a photo taken just outside Donaueschingen, which is in the Black Forest about 25 miles north of Switzerland. [Located at the confluence of the Brigach and Breg Rivers, Donaueschingen marks the start of the Danube, or Donau, Europe's second longest river. Dave later sent along a couple of maps showing Donaueschingen and environs and pinpointing the slug havens. These are reproduced below Tamia's reply, with the slug hot-spots identified by red dots. –Editor]