Posts Tagged ‘nature’

The other fellows

April 14th, 2011 by Dale Hobson

wildlife photosI’ve had a great time this morning, going back through photo submissions looking for the best shots of North Country wildlife. Once I got the collection done, I couldn’t move on to my next task, but kept looking through the slideshow over and over.

There’s something deeply fascinating about our fellow creatures. They have a directness and grace that comes hard to amped-up apes like us. When we encounter them, it’s hard to look away. We’re wired that way by ten thousand generations in the wild, but also–the wild ones are more beautiful and strange than the limited manmade indoor world of everyday.

I would like to say we love them for themselves alone, but not so, I think. Instead, we project ourselves into the mirror of them. In Joe Woody’s photo of a Merganser family on Lake Ozonia, I see my red-headed one-time neighbor, Mrs. Larsen, followed by her carrot-topped sons. Larry Masters photo of an ermine popping up from a drift shows the serious hyper-vigilance of any boy (me) in a snowball fight.

And while it’s harder, perhaps, to identify directly with birds, bugs, reptiles and such, we project onto them archetypal human qualities, totems still to modern day shamans. There’s the confident power of Carl Raden’s landing osprey, the sloth of Sandy Hildreth’s napping turtle, the pure freedom of Rose Turner’s snow geese, the lip-licking bloodlust of Howard Linke’s marten.

If there were only humans in all the world, we’d have no idea of who we are.

My Tuesday surprise

March 18th, 2010 by Dale Hobson

Everyone has their favorite things that they like about public radio, and with our spring fundraiser starting on Monday, yes–we of want you to be thinking along those lines. Me? I like surprises–something that takes my world view and just kicks it down the road. My latest “driveway moment” came while I was drinking my morning coffee on Tuesday. NPR science correspondent Joe Palca was talking about research into using the unique mix of bacteria we leave behind us wherever we go as a means of identifying people whether they have left their own DNA behind or not.

As a natural-born paranoid, that got my attention. But what really blew my mind was one of those “Everything you know is wrong” experiences. Like most people, I know that we have a lot of bacteria riding along with us. But in his set-up, Joe said, “In fact there are many more bacterial cells in and on our body than human cells.” To which his interview subject replied “As far as I’m concerned, the human body is just a large microbial habitat.” Yikes! We’re outnumbered! This is a whole new way of looking at myself. In addition to public radio web guy, North Country boy, father, husband, and occasional poet, I now had to think of myself as a cruise ship made of meat, with a small crew of human cells catering to the whims of a vast cargo of bacteria as they sailed the Islets of Langerhans.

This led me to look up information about how the ruling majority affected us, discovering that bacteria have a large role in determining what we eat, and whether we are prone to be fat or thin, and other things we thought were under our control, or at least under the control of our own genes. I hadn’t had such a good paranoid meltdown in months. Thanks, Joe.
If public radio has blown your mind, let us know in a comment below. And don’t forget to drop by online, by phone or by mail, to renew your support for North Country Public Radio.

Invaders

October 8th, 2009 by Dale Hobson

I was struck by today’s Photo of the Day by Stuart Delman of a bizarre tree fungus along the Pilot Knob Mountain trail near Lake George. It looks like a coral learned to climb a tree, or like some horror movie alien about to leap off onto a screaming face. It’s nothing I’ve seen in my local woods walks, and it gets me to thinking about what else I don’t see: chestnuts, elms, healthy beech, or much of anything living that’s older than me.

Lovely as the North Country is this time of year, it’s also true that it is not what it once was, and never will be again. Aliens have been at work, though not the kind you see in movies. The chestnuts were mostly gone before I was born, fallen to an invasive import, though I witnessed the recent decline and death of one of the last survivors on the St. Lawrence University campus. The elms went when I was a child. The beeches around my house are all on the way out due to scale and insect predation. Pine, spruce and maple all contend with their own ills, and the ash blight moves closer each season.

All pests brought in by human activity. We are also an invasive species in the North Country. Just try surviving a winter naked outdoors if you believe otherwise. And we had at the forests with the rabid greed of Dutch elm beetles, cutting in less than a century virtually 100% of the forest, that had developed undisturbed since the retreat of the glaciers 10,000 years ago. Second-growth forest and old-growth forest are apples and oranges. It will take a few more centuries before the Forever Wild lands begin to resemble a climax ecosystem.

The price of progress is not only steep, it is ruinous. We have smashed the watch so we could play with the gears. What’ll we tell Mom when she gets home?

Well-traveled

June 18th, 2009 by Dale Hobson

Seems like everyone’s been on the road lately–Bob and Jackie no sooner get back from their Greek excursion than Bob gears up to bicycle from Canton to Provincetown. Martha and David are recovering nicely from recent travels in the Northwest. I’m more of a home body, Thoreau’s type, who famously said “I have traveled widely–in Concord.”

I clock a lot of miles on evening strolls down the Red Sandstone Trail behind my house on the Raquette River. The route doesn’t change much, but the seasons do. The ancient bones of the North Country show, sand and sandstone laid down by the Cambrian Sea, stone so old it contains no fossils large enough to see. The woods change–mostly oak along one stretch, mixed maple and struggling beech along another, cool pine shade farther down on Sugar Island.

At one end is Hannawa Falls, called by the original namers “nihanwate,” laughing waters. My favorite stop is a shaded outcrop overhanging the falls at such a perilous angle, some day the water will have the last laugh. At the other end you can see the village of Potsdam downriver, the pilings of the old narrow gauge rail line leading to Oak Island, used to transport salmon-hued loaves of fresh-cut stone from the upstream quarries. The river is dotted with cairns of stone, where the log drivers anchored their booms deep in the 19th century. It’s not wilderness, but a place like many in the North Country, where people have lived long enough to make their mark, and long enough for the marks to sink back into soil, to crumble and be overtaken by vines.

This has been my stomping ground since childhood excursions on a bike with a banana seat and ape-hanger handlebars. I see no reason to change now. Though it did look like there were some pretty fair walking trails on the Greek Isles, too.

Terrible longing

May 7th, 2009 by Dale Hobson


Lust is one of the big sins, right up there with sloth (my personal favorite) and simony–whatever that is. The usual objects of lust are money, power or sex, but I have become fixated on trillium. So ephemeral, so simple, so precious. I want to cut them and put them in a vase, or dig them up and transplant them home–I want to possess them. They are not gaudy and sociable like the daffodil, which permits itself to be herded chock-a-block into beds. They are modest and retiring, thriving in the most anemic of soil; they hide their beauty under partial shade. They keep a discreet distance from one another, lightly salted along the woodland trails. Far from the aggressive perfume of lilac, they cast no more aroma than cold spring water.

It’s one thing to patiently wait out the cruel winter, then to take to the blackfly-infested woods, where one can savor their natural virtues in situ. But this terrible longing, this criminal impulse to uproot them–it can only lead to dining on larks in aspic, to buying strawberries out of season, to keeping a cheetah in the apartment on Central Park West. Were the trillium all mine, hoarded beneath my window, I would slaughter a dozen chipmunks to protect them. I would take a chainsaw to the pine trees if they so much as blocked the light.