about those pines
Friday, September 12 2014
location: west shoreline of Kyser Lake, Herkimer County, New York
Yesterday Ramona had found a huge bone at one of the neighbor camps to the north and had somehow managed to eat about half of it. During the night, though, the pieces of bone in her stomach must have disagreed with her, because she vomitted on several occasions. The first time, she immediately redevoured (that's a word that really only applies to dogs) the puke, but then early this morning she threw up again and left most of it be in a corner of our little bedroom, which immediately stank of vomit. When I got up, I saw what looked like about five pounds of the stuff (swollen kibble mixed with kibble puree and bone). As I cleaned it up, I saw that one piece of bone was about the size and shape of a brazil nut. Happily, Ramona recovered completely from her mishap, proving once again that dogs can be trusted with bones and aren't likely to destroy themselves by eating precisely what they've been eating for millions of years.
This morning I went with Gretchen on her morning walk with the dogs, which she has been doing on the highlands west of Kyser Lake. The land up there is mostly scrubby underbrush and old apple trees, though there are also hay fields and patches of forest. On our walk today, we stayed mostly in the forest at the top of the escarpment above the lake south of our cabin. Most of the camps in this area have their cabins directly on the lake, though getting up and down the escarpment has (as I noted yesterday) required heroic construction projects, either in the form of steep roads (which the cabin nearest ours managed to pull off) or various forms of electric winch-drawn inclines riding on long stretches of rail. I used the term "rail" loosely because in all but one case they consisted of numerous pairs of two by sixes set end-to-end with "ties" of two-by-fours between them, all held into a sloping plane by an underlying framework. The one exception was the incline I'd seen while kayaking near the south end of the lake, the one whose cabin is at the top of the incline and whose dock is at the bottom (43.062327N, 74.769977W). Its rails actually appear to be steel and possibly part of a complete kit (the other inclines had a makeshift homebrew appearance to them). We managed to approach that cabin through the forest today, but we didn't want to get too close should someone happened to be there. In addition to the cabins and inclines, we could see some docks (and makeshift camps complete with fire pits and chairs) down on the lake that didn't appear to be connected to anything up on the escarpment at all. Perhaps these were hangout spots for teenagers accessible only by boat.
Back at the cabin, as we were preparing our breakfast of coffee and various other things (for me, a fancy sandwich in a bagel), Gretchen got an email from the son of our uphill neighbors ("the Greenhouses"). [REDACTED] He wanted to talk to us about the way we keep the chunk of our yard that technically belongs to his parents. Evidently they weren't happy with it. Not wanting this issue to hang over our heads for the rest of our vacation, Gretchen immediately called the son so we could discuss the matter.
At this point I should clarify that Gretchen and I do not subscribe to the conventional suburban American ideal, the one where every square foot of a residential plot must be regularly maintained (usually as mowed lawn) and no changes (particularly through ecological succession) are to be permitted. We've never mowed any of the "yard" east of our house, and it is now a mix of scrubby underbrush and nascent White Pine forest. We've also encouraged ecological succession in the patch of former lawn closest to the road in hopes that it would one day provide a better buffer between our house and the road. When that succession didn't happen fast enough, we contracted with a local landscaping company back in 2010 and had them build a mound and plant White Pines along it. Because that land technically belongs to our uphill neighbors (the guy who built our house accidentally built it on their boundary), we met with them first and got their permission. That permission was not granted with unbridled enthusiasm, and we'd had to promise not to let the pines grow too tall.
I should also mention the æsthetic of our uphill neighbors. They're good people and we like them, but when it comes to property maintenance, they're from a different generation. They fully embrace the American suburban ideal and keep an immaculate lawn, though they do see the folly of trying to mow the field that lies between their house and the Farm Road. The terrain there is rocky, occasionally swampy, and rough in places, and the best they can do to hold back ecological succession there is to bushhog it every six or seven years (the last time they did that was back in 2009). Holding back ecological succession there makes sense; otherwise, they would soon lose the view to their east. But there are two things they do that suggest that the virus of the suburban ideal has had a suppressive effect on their rational thought: once a year they send someone in a ride 'em lawnmower up and down the part of the Farm Road that runs across their property to mow whatever vegetation happens to be growing along its edge. And then they send someone with a hedge trimmer to trim the hedges that grow on either side of the Farm Road. Mind you, they do not use the Farm Road for any purpose and it is a couple hundred feet from their house, but because it is on their land, they feel the need to take these token actions. None of this is of any particular concern to us, but it nevertheless showcases the difference in worldview between them and us.
As expected, the Greenhouses' son brought up the issue of the pines we'd planted, complaining that they were getting too tall. (He claimed that he himself wasn't doing the complaining, that he was simply expressing the alarm of his parents, and that he was just acting as a go-between.) He said that somehow his parents had thought that the trees we'd be planting would be some dwarf pine cultivar, though we'd been very clear from the start that the trees we'd intended to plant would be White Pines and that we would trim the tops of them before they grew too tall. It seemed that the problem was that we'd never actually agreed on what "too tall" was. I hadn't even thought about trimming the trees yet because they were nowhere near tall enough to affect the Greenhouses' view. But today their son was telling us that there was no reason for them to be any taller than "six feet" (which seemed a bit short for the purpose we were growing them to provide).
The problem with a conversation such as this is that we were speaking from two totally separate world views. Gretchen and I embrace nature and its ways, and are happy with trees as they naturally grow. We'd agreed to trim the trees before they got too tall, but it seemed the Greenhouses' son was insinuating that we should somehow be doing something else, something that perhaps had never crossed our minds. Did he want the trees to look like lollypops? Gretchen finally asked him what it was that he wanted and he said that it was for the trees not to block the view. But, as I mentioned, they were nowhere near doing such a thing. Perhaps he just wanted us to trim the trees as some sort of good-faith statement of future intention to maintain them. So we agreed to trim the trees the moment we got back from our vacation. Along the way, we also discussed the possibility that we should just buy that part of our yard from the Greenhouses so they wouldn't have the suburban-ideal-based urge to dictate to us what should be going on there. The Greenhouses are getting old and their son doesn't necessarily think they'll be around in five years, so perhaps their anxiety about the pines is part of a set of anxieties that come at the end of life, particularly when parents are trying to leave things in an orderly state for their children. (I wish my mother had such anxieties!)
Late this afternoon, I cracked open a Genesee Cream Ale and took it with me as I kayaked directly across the lake and then south down to the hydroelectric dam. I got close enough to it to read the signs warning about overpowering current and to see the grebes (I think that's what they were; we haven't seen or heard any loons) that hang out on the floating vegetation near a thin peninsula (43.063366N, 74.768695W) that juts out into the lake.
It's easy to see someone kayaking from a great distance, and when I saw someone in a white kayak with white paddles coming my way, I knew it must be Gretchen. (In all our experience on Adirondack Lakes, it's extremely rare to see someone getting about on a lake using human power.) When she reached me, we went along the southwest shore of the lake to look at the bottom ends of some of the motorized inclines we'd seen at the top of the escarpment.
I've set up my laptop with an additional monitor on the cabin's dining room table (which we have no intention to use for dining; its other use is to provide Celeste a place to eat her food out of reach of the dogs). While I've been preparing it in fits and starts to serve as an entirely offline environment for doing additional work on the Lightroom-interfacing webapp, I've also been making my way through a movie entitled God's Not Dead, a Christian blockbusting sensation that some of my Facebook trolls' rightwing friends really got excited about several months ago. It's full of hilarious moments that reveal the right wing Christian's caricatured view of the people who lie outside their worldview. Such people are petty, insecure, and, oddly, deeply authoritarian. Indeed, the thing that most struck me about God's Not Dead is the weird inversion that portrayed all the atheists as hidebound to the views of important people or texts (or as directly dictating ideas based on the authority of their own credentials) while the Christians, while looking to scripture for guidance, tended to do so in a loosey-goosey sort of way that suggested their minds are open. At moments that count, though, for example, when our "hero" Christian gives arguments for evidence of God, they're based on authoritarian arguments. The whole movie, then, is presented as conflicts between authoritarians, reflecting (not surprisingly) the authoritarian world view of the movie's makers. There are a lot of other things to be said about the movie, and many of them are said in that link I provided.
For dinner, Gretchen and I cooked up a pair of frozen pizzas from Whole Foods. One was gluten-free and the other was not. (The gluten-free one had a crust that reminded me of pie crust more than pizza crust, which, Gretchen explained, was because in pie crust the gluten is "less developed.") I ate a bit too much and later suffered from heartburn (in fact, this was the second night in a row of heartburn for me). But because there was no baking soda or antacids in the cabin, there was nothing I could do. I briefly considered grinding up some concrete and eating that (portland cement is calcium carbonate), an idea that for some reason horrified Gretchen, but it was a bit too much work.
Late this evening when Ramona and Eleanor went out to take care of business, they started barking at something. When we went to check on what that something might be, we saw them out on the dock. This suggested that they'd repelled a naval landing by an armada of beavers. Fearing they might come ashore in the night and do to one of our $1200 kayaks what they'd done to Gary's water line, I dragged the kayaks up near the house.
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