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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Serenity at the Grafton Peace Pagoda

Nothing like a stroll through the Grafton Peace Pagoda nature trail, or a meditation session at the temple to slow you down...

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Autumn Colors

As I pondered this view yesterday, I decided it was time to research what exactly causes the leaves to turn colors and why some years the colors are more brilliant than others.

What causes this phenomenon?
As for the primary cause, the Science Made Simple website posting Autumn Leaves and Fall Foliage: Why Do Leaves Fall Colors Change? explains "The bright reds and purples we see in leaves are made mostly in the fall. In some trees, like maples, glucose is trapped in the leaves after photosynthesis stops. Sunlight and the cool nights of autumn cause the leaves turn this glucose into a red color. The brown color of trees like oaks is made from wastes left in the leaves"

Why are the colors more brilliant some years than others?
 From the USDA Forest Service's Why Leaves Change Colors, "A succession of warm, sunny days and cool, crisp but not freezing nights seems to bring about the most spectacular color displays. During these days, lots of sugars are produced in the leaf but the cool nights and the gradual closing of veins going into the leaf prevent these sugars from moving out. These conditions-lots of sugar and lots of light-spur production of the brilliant anthocyanin pigments, which tint reds, purples, and crimson. Because carotenoids are always present in leaves, the yellow and gold colors remain fairly constant from year to year."  The exact opposite of what I had thought -- I had it in my head that the "good" years were caused by an early hard frost. According to this explanation, this should be a really good year for brilliant colors.

Additional Reading
The Science of Color in Autumn Leaves (The United States Arboretum)

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Rayleigh Scattering Kind of Morning

I took this photo this morning.  Interesting contrast of coloring as I panned from my right (photo above) to my left (photo below).  Apparently, a lot of atmospheric particles for light to bounce off this morning.  Lord Rayleigh would have undoubtedly particularly found the above view of Rayleigh Scattering in effect thought provoking.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"Part of the Truth": School Politics

"Grafton having seven one-room schools, attempts were constantly being made to bring all or at least some of the common school districts into the Berlin Central District.  Mildred Craib, who was superintendent of an area that included Grafton, Berlin, and a couple of other towns, was a woman of enormous patience and persistence, and in the spring of 1941 she began to agitate, as she had done before, for centralization.  Two of Mrs. Craib's children, Pat and Bill, were friends of Steph -- an older son, Rod, was away at college -- and we came to know the Craibs well.  A local committee was formed, of which I was a member, along with Harry Nugent, who was the Republican boss of the town.  Although he kept an eye on public sentiment, as befitted a politician, Harry worked hard, and we attended conferences at the State Education Department and brought speakers to public meetings in Grafton.  In addition to the usual arguments -- "One-room schools were good enough for me," and, "I can't afford to pay any more taxes" -- we had to combat a special prejudice against Berlin -- "Why go any further into the backwoods?  Why not send the kids to Troy?"  But for a while it appeared that we were making progress, and if in the end our campaign came to nothing, at least it broadened my knowledge of the town and gave me material for the novel."

Hicks, Granville. Part of the Truth. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Small Town: Roxborough (Grafton)


"This town of ours straddles a range of hills lying between the valley of the Hudson and the valley of the Little Hoosac.  Going west from Troy, one climbs steadily and crosses the Roxborough border at an elevation of approximately one thousand feet.  The climb steepens, and at Roxborough Center the elevation is over fifteen hundred.  Just beyond the center the highway begins its descent to the Little Hoosac, and the eastern boundary is some twelve hundred feet above sea level.  The ridge drops off sharply to the north, but on the south it continues into the adjoining town.

From our house, which has an elevation of sixteen hundred feet, we look eastward across the valley to the Taconics, a thousand feet higher than we are, and beyond them we can see Greylock.  The Massachusetts line runs close to the top of the Taconics, only twelve miles away, and a little to the north it gives way to the Vermont line.

This area became the frontier in the latter third of the eighteenth century.  I have always been amazed by the rapidity with which the colonies expanded into what Frederick Turner called the Old West.  By 1645 the frontier of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was twenty miles west of Boston, and at the close of King Philip's War in 1676 it had been pushed another thirty or forty miles.  (Only a little later my father's ancestor's began to establish themselves on another frontier -- down east in Maine.)  From the Connecticut Valley the settlers moved on to the Housatonic: Litchfield (1720), Sheffield (1725), Great Barrington (1730).  In King George's War, Fort Massachusetts -- just across the Taconics at the foot of Greylock -- held the Hoosac gateway, and after 1763 the Berkshire towns were established.  By the time the Revolution began, New Englanders had spilled over into York State.  Towns near Roxborough had come into existence, and Roxborough itself probably had a few squatters."

Hicks, Granville. Small Town. New York: Macmillan, 1946.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Red-Spotted Newt

Eastern (Red-Spotted) Newt
I spotted this guy earlier this week and decided to read up on him.  Most interesting finds: I was surprised to learn that they can live 12 to 15 years.  Also, research described in the article, Ferromagnetic material in the Eastern Red-Spotted Newt, states "Our data, when combined with the functional properties of homing, suggest a link between this behavioral response and the presence of ferromagnetic material, raising the possibility that magnetite is involved at least in the map component of homing of the eastern red-spotted newt."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"Part of the Truth": Planting Trees

"Our fields were growing up to brush, and Dr. Sampson was constantly urging us to reforest them.  In the fall of 1940, when I had cut and burned a good deal of the brush, Mr Agan said to me, “That’s a good job you’re doing.  Next spring, if we both live, we’ll set out some trees.”  We did.  I ordered six thousand red pines and two thousand spruces, two-year transplants, from the State Conservation Department, and when they came, Mr. Agan, who had grown exceedingly deft in his long experience with Dr. Sampson, planted them."

Hicks, Granville. Part of the Truth. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965.

New York State Tree Nursery: Saratoga Springs, NY

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

"Part of the Truth": The Storm of 1950

Surface Weather Chart for 0300 GMT, Nov. 26, 1950 (Addt'l. Reading #4)
"That was the autumn of the big wind, which did almost as much damage as the ice storm and robbed us of our electricity for just short of a week.  The wind, straight out of the east, grew stronger and stronger all through the day, and all night we heard the crashing of tree limbs.  In the morning we found that a butternut tree had been felled, that one of the big maples had been torn apart, and that all of our trees had suffered.  Calvin and I went exploring in the Jeep, taking axes to clear the road, and found havoc everywhere.  On the shore of Long Pond, for example, a large grove of hemlocks had gone down, with not a tree left standing.  "When something like this happens," Cal said, "don't it make you feel kind of famous?""

Hicks, Granville. Part of the Truth. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965.

Additional Reading
  1. Nov 25, 1950: Storm of the century hits eastern U.S.
  2. Nature's Wrath: The Big Blowdown of 1950  
  3. Great Appalachian Storm of 1950 
  4. The Destructive Storm of November 25-27, 1950
  5. The Great Appalachian Storm of 1950

Friday, September 7, 2012

"Part of the Truth": Buying a Country House

The House on Shaver Pond Rd. in Grafton (My photo taken 77 years after Hicks purchased it.)

"Late one Saturday in May, after our third or fourth excursion, we came home completely discouraged, to find advertised in the local paper an eight-room farmhouse in good condition, fifteen miles from Troy, price reasonable.  We were disillusioned by this time and it was with high expectation that I called the real estate agent Monday morning and arranged to visit the house in the afternoon.

The road from Troy to Grafton was in bad shape, and the agent, a dour and fussy man, drove it with exasperating caution, keeping his eye on the temperature gauge as we climbed and climbed.  Finally, the road leveled off, so that we were riding along a plateau, with a house here and there.  We came to a cluster of three moderately prosperous-looking farms and then a gas station.  "Hold the little girl tight," the agent said.  "We're turning up that hill.  It's steep and the road is rough."

We made it safely, and followed a narrow, winding dirt road between green fields that stretched back to woodlands.  At the top of a second hill there was a farmhouse on one side of the road and a barn on the other, both weather-beaten but solid.  Beyond that was another house with a whole cluster of barns and outhouses around it.  Although he had been driving slowly enough anyway, the agent braked the car.  "We're almost there," he said.  But there were trees on either side of the road, and we could see nothing.  "There it is," he said, turning into a drive that was merely a pair of wheel tracks and stopping beside a butternut tree.

We weren't immediately impressed: it was just an ordinary story-and-a-half house, painted yellow.  But as the agent led us around to the front, across a little patch of lawn and beside a row of hydrangeas, we felt a touch of excitement.  The house was better from the front, simple and well-proportioned, and there was a splendid maple in front of it, as well as a row of maples along the road.

The agent let us in, and we took the house room by room.  Stephanie now holding my hand, now her mother's.  Each time I looked at Dorothy the glint in her eyes had brightened.  Small as the house had seemed from outside, there were indeed eight rooms, some of them, especially the kitchen, of a goodly size.  Then there was the broad porch that opened off the living room, giving us a view to the east, across fields bright with the greenness of May to woods and, far beyond the woods, to mountains -- the Taconics, with Greylock behind them.  We forgot to look at beams and sills; we didn't ask any questions wary house hunters ask.  We were shamelessly ignorant and, as ti turned out, ridiculously lucky."

 Hicks, Granville. Part of the Truth. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1965.