Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
   Falls Brook caves
Tuesday, August 11 2009

setting: forested Minerva Area, Adirondack State Park, New York

The day passes at a slower pace when one is vacationing at a yurt in the Adirondacks, far from cellphone connections and packets of internet data that, when assembled, become LOLcats and women dancing with babies trying to sell term life insurance. At some point Gretchen and I went on a hike up the hill to the northwest of the other yurt, in a region I remember from our last yurt vacation as being full of low granite cliffs. That had been in winter, and I wanted to see how the cliffs looked in this season. But I hadn't considered the cloaking ability of summer foliage, which completely obscured not only the distant hillsides, but also made it impossible to peer out from the immediate vicinity of the "trail." I used quotes for that word, because for most of our walk we were just using finding whatever trajectory would take us uphill and away from the worst of the berry patches.
Eventually I abandoned hope of finding the granite cliffs, so we turned east and headed across the steep-sided Falls Creek gorge and caught up with the Sherman Pond trail, taking it back south to the yurts. Along the way we saw a number of Red Efts (they're significantly smaller here than they are in Hurley), some Wood Frogs, and toads. There were few birds in evidence and we didn't see any reptiles or mammals. At some point I made a bad step off a granite boulder and bruised and badly skinned the inside of my right ankle, and it bled for the rest of the hike. We'd lost Sally somewhere up near the granite cliffs we hadn't found, and though we kept calling for her, she never turned up. She's a smart dog, but this was unfamiliar terrain and she's getting old, so we began to worry.
Back at the yurts, Gretchen went to ours while I went to the other to salvage some firewood, calling for Sally as I did. But this was unnecessary; Gretchen had found Sally waiting for her on our little yurt porch.
The toilet situation at the yurts is fairly rudimentary. There's an outhouse, and it has a seat in it, and under that seat is a five gallon bucket where the excreta goes. Gretchen reported that there was no sawdust in our outhouse, meaning that if I went in there I'd find a bucket with her poop in it with a side salad of besmirched toilet paper. So, to avoid this unpleasantness, I decided to go off into the woods and poop the way bears do. When I use the woods for the big number two, I have to be careful to make it so Eleanor can't roll in my production, so I usually pull a rock out of the ground, poop in the rock socket, and then replace the rock. (Eleanor is so extreme in her disgustingness that she would be tempted to dig down to the nastiness if the rock weren't there.)
While I was returning from my fecal foray, I heard the sound of rushing water coming from the ground, though there didn't appear to be a stream nearby. Drawing closer to the source of the sound, I saw it was coming from a three-foot-wide hole in landscape. I'd found a cave!
I quickly realized that the cave had been formed by the tiny stream passing near our yurt, and that it had gone subterranean to pass through a hump in the terrain. I walked to the upstream mouth of the cave and found the beginning of a horizontal tunnel, one it would have been possible to enter if one walked with a stoop. Who knew how far it went?
Excitedly, I returned to the yurt, only about 150 feet to the southwest, and told Gretchen. Eventually I borrowed a battery-powered lamp from the other yurt and we returned to the cave together to explore it together.
Inside the cave, I didn't make it far beyond the "chimney" (the three foot wide hole I'd found originally) before my claustrophobia kicked in. There's something about being in a small space underground with uncertain geology hanging over my head that gives me the willies. Near the mouth of the cave, I'd also seen an alternative route for the water that had simply fallen down a vertical shaft, and I was worried about a false step sending me down a similar rat hole. For her part, Gretchen was far more intrepid, following the cave nearly to what we'd eventually know to be its end. While she was doing that, I returned to the surface and went around to see what happened to the cave downstream, where the stream next appeared at the surface. Unfortunately there was no cave visible here; the water simply appeared in a deep pool and resumed its trajectory as a normal surface stream.
I'd grown up in the karst country of the Shenandoah Valley, a limestone region where caves should have been common. There was a sinkhole (a collapsed cave with no entrances) in the forest across the road, but I never once found the mouth of a cave one could actually walk into. But here, in granite country, was a real cave, the kind you need a flashlight to explore. (I'd actually found another cave when I'd been here before, but it had been a shallow void with a thick midden from thousands of years animal occupancy.)
At first I'd thought maybe this cave was just a series of naturally-connected voids through pile of granite rubble, but on closer inspection I could see that the cave passed through bedrock, following joints in the rock, joints that had eroded into gaps through which a human could walk. Did this indicate that the granite of Falls Brook contains a high concentration of calcium carbonate? Or do caves often form in granite? [Later I would learn that the biotite in granite is actually somewhat more soluble in water than limestone, turning to clay that then washes out, leaving the granite to crumble into sand.]
Back at the yurt, after a long lazy afternoon of reading, I brought out a couple canvases and began work on two of the paintings that will illustrate this children's book we're collaborating on. At some point I took a break from the painting to start a fire in the pit, mostly using twigs and paper as kindling because heavy rains had soaked all the forest leaf litter and rendered it useless. We had a dinner of Chinese noodles and grilled tempeh, though the brand of pre-packaged food (Simply Asian) proved cloyingly sweet.
As I've said, there aren't many signs of non-amphibian wildlife in these woods, though in the evening we could hear a Barred Owl off in the distance. As for the forest, it's even less diverse than that near our hardscrabble hilltop home in Hurley. We have most of the trees one sees here at Falls Brook, with the exception of Paper Birch, Yellow Birch, and some species of spruce, and we don't have the several species of lycopods common here, though I have seen them (or similar species) back at my childhood home in Virginia.

Eleanor sunning herself outside the yurt.

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