Friday, April 2, 2010

Spring Hike on the Colonial Greenway

Video of the trashline orbweaver I saw in Saxon Woods

For more pictures from this hike see the Picasa web album.

Marsh Marigolds Blooming!
It's a gorgeous day and I'm glad I got out to enjoy it. The sun was beaming down and drawing both fauna and flora up from the leaf litter. It was flora that I noticed first, in the form of marsh marigolds holding forth in yellow.

Trout Lilies Poking Up Through Leaf Litter
One of the most reassuring and satisfying signs of spring is the sight of trout lilies poking up through the leaf litter. Blossoms will come soon.

Young Leaves Unfurling
I don't know what this little plant is, but I welcome it to the world.

Cowslip Just Bein' a Cowslip
Cowslips are another familiar sight from the walks of my youth in the wet woods around home.

More Trout Lilies Being All Trouty

In between this plant shot and the next one, I took my longest stop of the day. I saw some plants I wanted to photograph, and then I noticed a tiny web glistening between the twigs of the small tree in front of me. I took a step forward, took a closer look at the sesame-seed-sized spider on the web, saw the telltale orange chevron on its ventral opisthosoma (god I love saying "ventral opisthosoma") and smiled. The adolescent venusta orchard spiders have left the leaf litter and are getting on with it. It's like getting reacquainted with an old friend.

I got out my Canon XSi with the macro lens and started snapping away. I noticed more and more webs and took more and more shots. Hundreds. Then I took some not-quite-so-close-up macro shots of a beautiful budding plant whose every bud had a brilliant red collar.

Then I noticed that the camera readout had a blank spot where the number of shots remaining on the memory card should be.

I popped open the hatch and sure enough: I'd forgotten to put the memory card in the camera.


...but here are some shots I took in South Mountain Reservation in Millburn last year, just to give you a sense of the tiny packets of negentropy I saw flaring all around me this morning.

Wildflower With Silvered Leaves
I haven't yet identified this plant. The silver pattern on the leaves is quite extraordinary--if I didn't know better, I'd swear someone painted each leaf with Testor's chrome model paint.

Blown-Down Sign on the Hutchinson Parkway
During the fourteen mile hike I passed, climbed over, and was forced to find paths around ten or twenty downed trees. This, however, is the most dramatic evidence of the soaking rains and high winds we've had around Larchmont lately.

I've seen millions of trillium in my day, and I'm reasonably sure I've never seen one like this. All the trillium I've seen have leaves of a uniform green. These have mottled leaves resembling those of trout lilies!

After a bit of Googling...

Holy crap! There are 40-50 species of trillium! I didn't know that! This one is Trillium sessile. The following is from Wikipedia:
Toadshade can be distinguished from other trilliums by its single foul smelling, stalkless, flower nestled in the middle of its three leaves. The three maroon petals, maintain a "closed" posture throughout its presence, the petals are occasionally pale green. The leaves are sometimes, but not always mottled with shades of light and dark green. Its species name comes from the Latin word sessilis which means low sitting, and refers to its stalkless flower.

Trashline Orbweaver
The trashline orbweaver has a distinctive appearance and behavior. It has a peculiar little "horn" protruding from the top rear of its abdomen; it has a brown speckled camouflage pattern like a quail's egg; it bundles its own refuse into a vertical line running through the center of its web; and, when startled, it shakes the web so that you can't tell the spider from the trashline! I spotted this little guy's trashline from ten or fifteen feet away.

Native Bleeding Heart
I'm used to the more showy pink bleeding heart, but this less flamboyant native bleeding heart is a joy to see festooning the forest with green and white.

Forked-Tongued Devil
I lay on my belly snapping away at this cute little guy for several minutes. It didn't back down easily; the reason I uploaded so many shots to the Picasa album was to show just how long it stood its ground and flicked its tongue at me every time I moved my hand.

Just before exiting Saxon Woods these two deer crossed in front of me and stood regarding me from a safe distance. They look like they're in mid-molt.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Update photos and stories from the field

Dear Hugh,

Support Partners In Health
Share this email with a friend
Over the past 24 hours, with communication partially restored in Port-au-Prince, we have been able to coordinate strategy, challenges, and needs efficiently and effectively with our medical and logistics teams on the ground in Haiti. With supplies delivered and initial surgical teams deployed there have been numerous successes at PIH's sites of medical operations in Port-au-Prince and outside of the city. Today, we initiated a more decentralized approach, identifying four communities and a medical complex in Croix-des-Boquets into which we will expand our efforts tomorrow. We also began a MedEvac program for the most critical patients - four patients arrived in Philadelphia this morning where they all had surgery today and five additional patients were flown to the Dominican Republic this afternoon.

In addition to these details, we have received painful emails, commentaries, and images about the state of Port-au-Prince. We hope that the following two pieces will provide you-our supporters who now stand in solidarity with Haiti-a glimpse of Port-au-Prince. You'll note, as we have, the profound need for a sustained, long-term international response to this crisis.

An email from Dr. Evan Lyon:
In an email sent very early this morning, Dr. Evan Lyon documented his reaction to the catastrophe in Port-au-Prince.

Read more about his first twelve hours in the city

Dr. David Walton documents the tragedy and PIH's response in images:

Arriving in Port-au-Prince within 48 hours of the tragedy, Dr. David Walton met up with Partners In Health and Zanmi Lasante (Partners In Health's Haitian sister organization) leadership to care for patients and pursue a coordinated strategy for medical relief.

View his gallery of his photos

On behalf of all of our patients and the hundreds of thousands suffering, we thank you for your efforts to spread the word of our work. Please share these accounts with others.

In solidarity,

Ophelia Dahl
Executive Director

Your Impact on the Ground in Haiti

Dear Hugh,

Medical staff study an x-ray of earthquake victim

Support Partners In Health

Since Tuesday evening, PIH staff has been working around the clock to bring relief to the people of Haiti who are suffering immensely in the aftermath of the catastrophic earthquake. You have seen the images on the news, read the updates on the web, and responded in a profoundly generous way to our calls for help - we are indebted to you for your quick mobilization and generous contributions.

Our team, because of our deep roots in Haiti, was able to be among the first to respond with emergency medical services. Since the first days, our staff has stepped up to take on the challenge of serving the most vulnerable in Port-au-Prince and of providing comprehensive care ranging from basic primary care to complicated surgical services at our sites in the Central Plateau and Artibonite Valley. Co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer wrote yesterday, "We find that years of investment in building a strong local partner organization mean that we are again in the position of responding effectively to a natural disaster. We are very proud of our team."

All of this work-our years of investment and our ability to respond is made possible because of people like you who do not become paralyzed in the face of suffering but rather stand up and help serve.

Yesterday, Dr. Farmer arrived in Port-au-Prince to check in with our team and to meet with Government and UN officials. Since his visit, we have already seen the tide begin to change - this morning, the PIH/Zanmi Lasante team was designated by the World Health Organization to serve as the coordinators of the public hospital, Hopital de l' Universite d'Etat d'Haiti (HUEH), where thousands are suffering in need of medicines and surgeries. In this new role, we will be supporting the administration and staff and recruiting other NGOs to help restore services, particularly triage, nursing, and surgical, at the city's central hospital. Our priority is to increase stock of medicines and supplies, ensure steadily functioning operating rooms, and guarantee sufficient medical staff is available, particularly for nursing care to help with post-op recovery, iv management, and other care that has had to be self managed over the past three days.

With supply chains in place and flights arriving more consistently in Port-au-Prince since the air traffic control has been reinstated, today has already been a turning point in our ability to respond to the enormity of the devastation and really get the field hospitals and public hospitals up and running. We have two planes of surgeons and surgical supplies arriving within hours, we have fuel on its way to Haiti through the DR, and we are reallocating supplies from our ten sites to where they are needed most on a regular basis.

It is clear to us all that relief for Haiti must rely on our collective immediate response and our sustained long-term commitment to building back better. Our approach to health care delivery in resource-poor settings-partnering with the public sector, employing locally, and investing for the long-term-is a key part of the solution for Haiti now and in the future. We hope that you will continue to stand with Haiti now and in the months and years to come.

Thank you for your solidarity during this crisis,

Ophelia Dahl
Executive Director

Read our ongoing updates from the field at

Friday, January 15, 2010

What we're hearing on the ground

Dear Friends,

The tragedy in Haiti is more dire than we could have ever expected it would be in the hours following the earthquake. But thanks to your support, we're already making a difference.

We received a report from Cate Oswald, one of our staff in Haiti, who traveled through the Central Plateau to Port-au-Prince yesterday with two truckloads of meds and supplies. She described the scene:

"We started seeing destruction from Mt. Cabrit (where big rocks lie in the middle of the road) through Croix de Bouquets where it doesn't seem as bad but lots of walls down. Then the scene gets much, much worse. Tonight, everywhere throughout the city, as we drove by the national plaza, there are thousands of people sleeping outside. While I was in Port-au-Prince, there were still aftershocks being felt. I didn't venture into other parts of the city, but as you all know, koze sa pa jwet menm [Haitian saying literally translated as "this is not a game"]."

The trucks met up with PIH staff, including Dr. Louise Ivers, at the UN's logistics base in Port-au-Prince. Louise was one of two doctors attending at the time, and they had nothing but aspirin until our trucks showed up.

Our leadership is in Port-au-Prince now determining the best location to establish a base of operations. Their assessment includes laying out all the next steps for getting supplies, equipment, and additional staff to the people most in need.

Your donation is already providing critical relief to the people of Haiti - but we have a long way to go. Please tell your friends about the critical work Partners In Health has done in Haiti for more than 20 years, and the urgent support we need right now:

Share this important update with a friend

Another of our Haitian colleagues, Patrick Almazor, reported today that he and several other doctors have set up mobile clinics in the Delmas section of Port-au-Prince.

"We have a lot of fractures," he wrote in an email. "We are running out of meds, I'm on my way to St. Marc [a PIH facility] for supplies."

Importantly, given the patients already flowing out of Port-au-Prince to St. Marc and our other facilities outside the city, we cannot leave our hospitals understaffed.

So we are recruiting surgeons, anesthetists, nurses, and other medical professionals to travel to Haiti in the next couple of days to help with staffing, particularly as many of our staff have lost family members and friends.

There's still so much that needs to be done for the people of Haiti. Your help in spreading the word can make a tremendous impact:

Share this important update with a friend

A handful of our colleagues remain unaccounted for - we continue to have every hope that it is due to lack of ability to communicate via telephone and the lack of electricity for computers, but we do not know.

Our staff has more or less been working around the clock in Boston and Haiti. I am incredibly lucky to work with such a passionate and committed group of individuals who will not stop unless their job /task /mission is done.

Thank you for your solidarity during this crisis,

Ophelia Dahl
Executive Director

PS: This is a critical time for the people of Haiti. If you can, please consider making another donation to Partners In Health's work on the ground.

Relief for Haiti

I got the following e-mail from a friend the other day. The next day, after looking up Partners in Health on Charity Navigotor and finding that 95% of their budget goes to operational expenses, I donated to them.

Dear friends and family,

I have just received an email from a dear friend who has worked extensively in Haiti in the field of public health in the past.

As he reports:

"Conditions there are deplorable at the best of times, and yesterday's earthquake will have exacerbated health, poverty and infrastructure problems enormously. The quake could not have hit a more vulnerable country or city (the capital, Port-au-Prince).

"Partners in Health" ( is the most effective aid organization I know, and they already do a lot of work in Haiti. I haven't had work in several months, but I just sent Partners in Health $500, in addition to my regular monthly donation. I am encouraged by President's Obama's intention to do all he can for Haiti, but I can guarantee that Partners in Health will address the problems more quickly and more efficiently than the U.S. government.

If you have any interest in helping alleviate this disaster, please go to, click on "Donate now to help earthquake relief," and give whatever amount you can afford to Partners in Health. Any amount will be useful. If you prefer to give to another organization, by all means, do so, as soon as possible."

I invite you to join me in helping to get medical supplies and disaster support where it needs to go today.

Love to all,


Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Parting Glass

After my hike up Blue on the 31st I continued north to Lake Placid. I'd chosen the Northway Motel because it was within walking distance of Lake Placid Pub & Brewery and cost much less than Art Devlin's Olympic Motor Inn.

Before settling in at Lake Placid Pub & Brewery I swung by the other excellent brewpub in town: Great Adirondack Steak & Seafood. I don't eat there because I think that the food is overpriced. But I do love to stop and see what beers they have available. Like Chris Ericson at Lake Placid Pub & Brewery, Hutch Kugeman at Great Adirondack brews a constantly rotating selection of fine beers.

The Abby Ale is an excellent representation of a Belgian dubbel. I thoroughly savored the complexities of my pint; it's no wonder that it won a silver medal. The Winter Gold isn't as complex, but I found it to be even more of a revelation. I've spent years developing a taste for hoppy beers, so it's very rare that a brewer can catch my attention with hops, let alone say something new to me. This beer did both. It's a session ale, meaning that the alcohol content is low enough that one can spend a whole evening's session enjoying it. I never thought I'd say this about a hoppy session ale, but this stuff was remarkable. The hops were assertive without overpowering the other flavor characteristics, which must be bloody hard; it gave me the impression of an exquisite balancing act. I was so impressed that I bought a growler of the stuff to take home.

I ditched the growler in the motel room fridge, walked over to Lake Placid Pub & Brewery, and bellied up to the bar. I started with the Brown Bag Ale, and liked it so much that I stuck with it for most of the evening. My, but I love a good brown ale. This one was mild enough, welcoming enough, and interesting enough to want to stick with. It had a creamy aspect that balanced beautifully with the nutty-with-a-hint-of-molasses character. Marvelous. I was sad not to see it in the growler case, although taking home a growler of Ubu can hardly be called settling.

I decided on the steak fries with chili as an appetizer. As it turned out, this was not only an excellent choice, but it was a meal in itself: the thing that they put in front of me resembled one of the mountains I'd been climbing. Mmmmmm, yummy.

So I had three brown ales and the milk stout shown above in its souvenir glass. I made the mistake of ordering a pulled pork sandwich at 10:00, when I found out that the kitchen was closing. The sandwich was good, but very tangy. Between that, the beer, and the steak fries with chili, I was ready to pass out. At 11:00 I walked my growler of Ubu and my bloated self back to the motel. I meant to call Grace at midnight to say "Happy New Year" but I passed right out.

As I checked out the next morning I chatted with the motel proprietor about snowshoeing and about getting the right pack and other equipment. He recommended The Mountaineer in Keene Valley, so I took a pleasant drive to the southeast. I didn't end up talking to anyone about packs because a blast of customers besieged the place right after I got there, and there seemed little hope of talking to a salesperson any time soon.

On my way back through town I stopped again at Lake Placid Pub and Brewery for lunch. I liked the steak fries and chili so much that I got another order of those to go with my brown ale. Best of all: the brown ale was available in growlers; they'd just run out the night before! I bought two of them to go with the two growlers already in my trunk.

So I left town and headed back toward Eagle Bay. And on my way through Saranac Lake my trip hit a big sour note: I got pulled over. I couldn't believe it. I'd been tailgated on a regular basis during the previous twenty hours: in Blue Mountain, in Keene Valley, and in Saranac Lake about a mile before I got pulled over!. Apparently this lulled me into a sense that I was the slowest thing on the road, and that made me careless. Bugger. 46 in a 30 zone, according to the cop. Bugger!

So I got back to camp and pretty much imploded. I drank my beer and dicked around with my computer, and railed at myself for bringing the thing, and at the thing itself for telling me that there was a wireless connection available. I will never bring a computer to camp again.

Sigh. Not my best night.

But at least I got the roof pretty well shoveled off. I learned my lesson last year: do not let the leaves sit on the roof over the winter, as they act as a cement for the ice and snow.

It took a long time to pack up and clean the camp. I was feeling so dour that I almost went straight home. But after Grace sent a text asking where I was hiking, the better part of me managed to wrangle my depressed self into taking one last hike up Bald. It improved my mood a bit. Here are a few pictures. See the Picasa web album for a full 360.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Climbing Blue With a Full Pack

For lots more pictures from this hike, see my Picasa web album.

The urge to return to the warm camp at night is harder to resist than I'd expected. On Wednesday I did three laps up Bald but that urge brought me back for a hot dinner cooked over the wood stove. I did resist the urge to just lie down and sleep in camp, though. I geared up, snowshoed about a hundred yards behind the camp, and set up the bivy.

That night was much less comfortable than I'd expected. I was way too warm. The air in the woods behind camp was very still, so even though the temperature was lower than it was when I'd camped out on Rocky, I was roasting in my -30° bag. I had to unzip not only the bag, but the mouth of the bivy! Incidentally, this caused a small problem: water vapor from my breath freezing onto the zipper. It took some doing for me to zip the bivy the next morning.

I did not sleep soundly at all, so I slept later than I'd expected to. So I got on the road to Lake Placid later than I would have liked. But I still wanted to get a good workout in, seeing as how I was going to be eating and drinking a lot during my New Year's Eve celebrations. So I pulled over at the Blue Mountain trailhead, strapped on the shoes and the pack, and headed up.

I've climbed Blue Mountain fifteen or twenty times in all four seasons, and yesterday's climb was far harder than any of those. A full pack turns the climb into a whole new ball game. But again, it's not just the weight. As of this climb, I'm sure of two things: I need a new pack, and I need poles.

My Army pack displaces my center of gravity far up and backwards. This forces me to lean forward, which makes it more difficult to get traction with the crampons. It also makes me teeter precariously whenever I'm trying to ascend a steep slope. A pack that distributes the weight lower and closer to my back would do wonders for my balance and stability.

Of course even the best pack will change my center of gravity, and that's where the poles will come in. As I was straining my way up the steeper parts of the trail I knew that a pole in each hand would have helped me to balance and to brace myself as I stepped up.

This isn't all idle speculation. A lot of it comes from a conversation with a fellow who passed me on the way up, and again while he was coming down and I was still on the way up. There's nothing like being passed by a guy in his sixties with a bushy grey beard to make me feel out of shape.

It took me about an hour and a half, but I did make it to the peak. Well before I got there I saw that it was worth the extra effort, because the snow on the trees was breathtaking. And the thick coating of ice and snow on the fire tower was spectacularly dramatic. I snapped a bunch of shots and headed back down. I didn't check the time so I can only say that the descent took me approximately fifty minutes.