Category Archives: Adirondacks
In the mature hardwoods of the Adirondacks, the American Beech reigns supreme. It is a majestic tree, stretching 80 feet or more and providing the dense summer canopy of the forest. The wood of this tree is also dense, and the trunk grows straight, with smooth gray bark. In the fall the golden leaves of the Beech offset the bright red of the many varieties of maple that grow here. While the forests at mid-elevation are described as Beech/Hemlock/Yellow Birch/Sugar Maple forests, it is the Beech that predominates the longer an area of forest is undisturbed.
Forest animals from Red Squirrels to Black Bears depend on the fruit of the Beech for survival. The tree produces two small triangular nuts encased in burry shells. The Beech fulfills a core sustenance role for wildlife played by the White Oak in warmer climates. Like the Oak, the Beech hangs on to its dry leaves throughout the winter, letting go only when spring arrives and its long spear-like buds emerge. The leaves are large, oval, and pointed, with toothed edges. This is a long-lived tree which bides its time in the shade for many years, shooting up quickly when a patch of sunlight emerges as another tree falls.
Though nature enthusiasts prize this beautiful tree, the lumber industry is equivocal about its merits. The wood makes beautiful furniture and durable blond flooring, but the trees themselves are susceptible to various diseases which are hard to recognize uncut. Beech is less desirable as cordwood because the wood takes a long time to season. Mostly the trees are left alone, which is just as well since they fill such an important ecological niche.
American Beech can be thought of as the North American equivalent of European oaks such as the English Oak. Both belong to the Fagaceae family, and according to Robert Graves much religious symbolism associated with the oak was transferred from the Beech, partly because the Beech is not found in Mediterranean climates. The European Beech is equivalent to the American in many ways: it is long lived, tall, shade tolerant, and produces the seeds that animals love. The American Beech is a bit fussier about its growing environment, though, and the European grows faster, so if you live in a North American city the beech tree in your neighborhood may not be a native one.
In German folklore the souls of children waiting to incarnate hung around beech trees, so women would wander around beeches to conceive. Beech wood could not be allowed near a woman in labor, however, or she would have a more difficult time with the birth.
Beech has a strong association with writing. Beech wood tablets were once used as a writing surface, particularly for runic script. The smooth bark of living beech trees continues to be used for carving.
Beech is considered conducive to divination, and it is a recommended wood for wands. I suppose it’s used for wands, rather than staffs, because it is so dense. I recently acquired a prime piece of American Beech, and I’m surprised every time I pick it up by how heavy it is. I am intending to use it as a staff, but I doubt I’ll be able to carry it too far into the woods.
Dana, “Sacred Tree Profile: American Beech (Fagus Gradiflora) – Magic, Medicine, And Qualities, The Druid’s Garden, July 6, 2015. https://druidgarden.wordpress.com/tag/beech-tree-mythology/
Chris Dunford, “Beech: The Most Beautiful Tree in the Wood,” Nature Explored Photography http://www.nature-explored.com/beech-info.htm
Stan Tekiela, Trees of New York (Cambridge, MN: Adventure Publications, 2006).
The big excitement this week has been the appearance of a Great Gray Owl, a boreal owl rarely seen in the United States. As the name implies, this is a very large owl, bigger even than the Great Horned. The wingspan is huge, but a blur in my camera even flying slowly.
No one knows if this is a female or male, though one birder thought this owl is female based on the size (female owls tend to be slightly larger, but the difference is not great enough for identification). The owl was unconcerned about the group of people nearby and concentrated on hunting rodents. As word has spread, people have been flocking here from out-of-state.
What does it all mean? On one level, that food for this bird in the far north has been scarce this winter. Possibly we have had a greater mouse or vole irruption, though I haven’t noticed it. Gray Owls have also been spotted in the past few weeks in Maine and New Hampshire.
This was not a personal sign since I was told where the bird was feeding in the late afternoon and went looking for it, but it is a sign for the nearby community as whole, which has talked of little else this week. I ordinarily don’t place credence on superstitions about seeing owls in daylight and don’t know anyone who does, partly because we see so many owls during the day around here.
The owl is the sacred bird of Ishtar, probably because the owl protects the grain by hunting rodents. The owl was also a women’s symbol in Mesopotamia. Women wore owl amulets during childbirth and the prostitutes’ union used the owl as their totem. I interpret this owl as an intervention from outside to rid the community of the vermin of noxious ideas.
In the next day or two as weather becomes warmer, the owl is expected to move north.
Reconstruction is 85% or more complete on the house I’m living in. It has not been as inconvenient as I feared, although it has undeniably been disruptive — necessitating changes in how I work, tolerance of noise and debris, and acceptance of lower productivity. The workers have been considerate of my space and schedule, but construction is messy and accommodation can only go so far without jeopardizing the time frame of the project.
As the project draws to a close, I am coming to value not just the improvements to the building but the process itself: the collaborative problem solving of minor issues, the slow transformative progress, the expectant activity of each weekday. And I have never valued silence so much as I have on these winter evenings.
Most importantly, I have learned a great deal about how energy in a building works. I have long been acutely aware of how a building’s energy affects the occupants, but I have now become more attuned to how human energy affects a building. The initiation of the changes to this house required a shift in energies of many personalities. This is probably why renovation usually occurs when ownership of a building changes or when the occupants are preparing to move, but sometimes energies are so entrenched that even this does not shake things up enough. The activity of the past seven months on this house is as much a reflection of change as a change itself. Conflict and confusion emanating from place had to be met with clarity and resolution from the human spirit.
What do we want? Something or other.
When do we want it? Sometime.
The morning of the Women’s March I walked out to my car and discovered my rear driver’s side tire was low. Not flat, but low enough that I had to drive miles out of my way to a convenience store to get air. I had planned to get to the March a bit early, but now I only hoped the tire would hold for the thirty mile drive.
Miraculously, I arrived on time. The tire had lost air, but it held well enough to get me to Lewis, New York, for the march and rally at the gravesite of suffragist Inez Milholland (see last week’s post). I was stunned at the turnout. Over three hundred people were there, mostly women but plenty of men and children too, many wearing pussyhats and carrying great signs. Three hundred sounds like a small number in a protest of millions, and I guess it is, but Lewis is a hamlet in a very rural county — a county that voted for Trump by three percentage points. The signs reflected concerns across the country about reproductive rights, diversity, racial justice, and sexual harrassment.
I thought the March was great right up to the point where the speaking started, and then I wondered why I bothered to come. The leader of the Lewis March spoke about the history of the suffrage movement, offering some quotes from Milholland. So far, so good. Then she spoke about how we had gathered for “truth.” That was all: not even a passing reference to actual struggles of women today, where we need to go, and how we get there. I guess being on the side of truth is a political statement in this post-truth era, but truth about what? There was no focus to this march. All the energy was dissipated on non-offensive, non-directed pablum, and the whole thing became a celebration of tribal identity, not a demand for women’s rights.
In some ways, the well-attended Lewis non-event was a microcosm of issues that spilled out with the national March during the lead-up period. Many women were unclear about the purpose of the March. Organizers expressed a commitment to inclusivity, but that did not appear to include a feminist perspective. For example, organizers headlined a self-admitted rapist and a champion of “sex work,” angering sex industry survivors. The organizers declared this was not a protest any kind and not specifically about women. Despite the timing of the event the day after the inauguration, they insisted this march was not intended to be anti-Trump. So what was this about?
News media defined the March entirely as anti-Trump, sometimes even omitting to say that it was a women’s march. To be fair, most people I talked to were motivated primarily by their horror of Trump, and the demonstrators’ signs bore this out. The pink pussyhats were everywhere (even in Lewis). I have to admit that I originally thought the pussyhats were a bit silly. I didn’t say anything because I was happy to see women excited about a project and pouring their creativity into something, but privately I thought it was dumb. I changed my mind when I saw the pussyhats in action, sending a message that so many women and men who showed up to the March thought sexual harassment and assault worthy of protest at this thing that was not supposed to be a protest. And the signs! So many uteruses, vulvas, and vaginas. They showed that women rightly see their oppression as intricately tied to their biology, and the innocence with which this was displayed showed that apparently many have not gotten the memo that references to female anatomy are oppressive to trans people and must be exorcised from all women’s gatherings. I suspect that when most women have gotten that memo, there will be a huge rebellion, and many things about gender that have been accepted without question will be scrutinized.
But that rebellion is years away, and I believe that for now the women’s movement is in a long period of struggle to accept and confront the problem. Our problem is not violence; it is male violence directed at women. Our problem is not gender; it is the use of gender by males to define, redefine, and undefine women. Our problem is not sexual harassment; it is the sexual harassment by males toward females (and children). Our problem is not religion; it is male religions dictating to women what we can and cannot do. Our problem is men, and until a critical mass of women can name the agent of our oppression, I do not see the women’s movement progressing, no matter how many show up for a non-directed protest.
There was an indoor follow-up event ten miles away from the Lewis rally, and I had planned on attending it, but after the rather demoralizing graveside experience I decided to get my tire fixed. I think that the March was a success in that it sent a message to our Democratic lawmakers that large numbers of women all over the country and all over the world are paying attention to Republican efforts to erode human rights, and that these lawmakers need to stand up to Trump. That alone was worth the small investment of showing up. As far as the march for women’s liberty goes — we have a long road in front of us.
The big Women’s March in DC is this Saturday January 21st, and I will be attending one the “sister marches” in Lewis, New York. This march will begin at the gravesite of suffragist Inez Milholland with a follow-up rally at a nearby grange hall. Details here.
Inez Milholland was a campaigner with the National Women’s Party who appeared in an iconic photo of the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession in Washington. She was born in 1886 to a progressive family. Her father, wealthy businessman and newspaper editor John Milholland, was a founding member of the NAACP. Milholland herself championed a number of social causes in addition to suffrage during her short life, chief among them world peace and the rights of workers.
While a student at Vassar, Milholland was disciplined for defying the injunction against participation in organized feminist activities. A few years later she received her law degree from New York University. Though Milholland had a supportive family and was considered a brilliant woman, she was to find continual disappointment in the professional world. Only one firm would hire her, a criminal law firm that only allowed her to argue cases considered unwinnable. Partners in the firm believed a jury might convict a man simply for having female counsel. In frustration Milholland quit law and went to Italy to work as a war correspondent. Despite her efforts to persuade officials that a woman’s perspective on the war was important, she was never allowed to get close to the fighting. She returned to America in defeat.
One influential person who did recognize Milholland’s talents was suffrage leader Alice Paul. Milholland was a persuasive and engaging public speaker and in addition had the big-boned large-featured good looks that were fashionable at the time. Only some who came to see her were interested in the cause of women’s suffrage; others came to see a glimpse of the famous beauty. Paul began to give Milholland a higher profile in the suffrage movement and in 1916 convinced her to embark on a multistate western tour to argue for the passage of an amendment to allow women the right to vote. Milholland was feeling unwell but went anyway understanding the importance of the mission. She attracted huge crowds and a great deal of media coverage.
During the height of the campaign Milholland wrote to Paul saying she was ill and would have to suspend travel, but Paul wrote back urging her to continue. Milholland allowed herself to be persuaded. For her part, Milholland was finally seeing her efforts produce results, and it must have been difficult to contemplate walking away from a successful enterprise after being stymied so much in the past.
Milholland collapsed during a rally in Los Angeles and died there a month later. She asked that her last recorded words be, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?”
Autumn colors have peaked and faded. It’s really such a short season. I now have snow-covered peaks to photograph and I will be sharing those with you in a few weeks.
Another thing that’s been happening for me, and really dominating my life, is that the house I’m living in is being repaired. A very good thing, but it’s requiring planning and adjustments on my part. We’re about two months into things, and of course the hard part is for those actually doing the work. The hard part for me is finding time to work. (I know, we should all have that problem.) I do my writing evenings and weekends, and during the week I clean, cook, and run errands, or just go for a long walk. Sometimes it rains or snows and I get a bonus day of work. It’s actually quite manageable, and it’s gratifying to see the repairs coming along. I have new windows! It looks like this will be going on for many more months, so the winter will be a time of adjustment. And maybe it will be a bit warmer inside this year.
I hope everyone’s Equinox was satisfactory and that the New Moon brings good happenings. Mercury retrograde in Virgo was intense, wasn’t it? And with a lunar and solar eclipse going on as well. I had my hot water, my washing machine, and my heat quit on me. You might think losing heat is no big deal in September, but not in the Adirondacks. Fortunately I now have a new hot water tank, I have a new washer/dryer, and the landlord is working on installing a new boiler, which is a rather involved proposition.
I am finding time to enjoy the out-of-doors in the most beautiful season of the most beautiful place to hike on earth. This is from the Giant mountain range on Wednesday.
The waters of Moose Mountain Pond were unusually clear when I was there Saturday, and I saw lots of these creatures underwater, so ugly they’re cute. The sounds of bullfrogs around the pond told me what these things are. This made me think about how fascinated I was as a child with the bottoms of creeks, rivers, and ponds. My brother and I would spend hours wading in the creek looking at things. It was a parallel universe that I thought about quite a bit, one that I could examine but not really enter. Today I see parents and grandparents tagging along with children carrying little nets, sharing the excitement of the underwater world while teaching the children to be gentle and not harm the objects of their curiosity. Summer is here, finally, and there are all kinds of worlds to explore beneath the surface.
I was driving back from town this week and saw this snapper laying her eggs on the side of the road. It didn’t look to me like the best place to do that, but I guess I don’t get to decide.
Turtles are sacred to the Greek goddess Gaia and the Sumerian god Enki.