Fall is fast approaching, presenting a period of flat, black waters, blue skies and bright stars. As forests slowly morph to traditional technicolor, cool mornings will produce a heavy valley fog and thoughts will turn to the upcoming sporting seasons.
The season offers a vast array of opportunities for outdoor adventures and signals the beginning of the High Holy Days for sportsmen.
Birders are another user group that greets the season with great anticipation as migrating species and the occasional vagrant offer opportunities for adding an unusual bird to their life lists.
Retired forest ranger Pete Fish of Keene Valley, wearing a kilt on the far right, is joined by a group of friends on the summit of Mt. Marcy following his 700th ascent of the state’s tallest peak.
(Photo — Nancie Battaglia)
In the past few weeks, I have found a number of unique winged visitors, including a double-crested cormorant that settled on the Saranac River below the Upper Locks. Fortunately, the long-necked, black-feathered, fish-eating machine has since departed. I also witnessed other unusual visitors when I sighted a pair of pied-billed grebes swimming on a small pond near Paul Smiths.
Gatherers are yet another group in an ever-growing list of outdoor enthusiasts who greet the fall with alacrity. This particular user group takes pride in collecting a variety of wild edibles ranging from mushrooms to berries to wild apples from old, abandoned orchards. They are true locavores, as are sportsmen and -women.
"Locavore" is a term for individuals who seek opportunities for collecting indigenous, environmentally sustainable food from local sources. Since the average American meal travels nearly 1,500 miles from field to fork, locavores attempt to break the cycle of gas-guzzling produce.
Locavores take pride in eating food labeled as free-range, grass-fed, organic, locally produced, locally harvested, sustainable, native, low-stress, low-impact, humanely slaughtered meat.
In traditional vernacular, this sounds like game meat provided by a typical fall harvest of venison, ducks, ruffed grouse, wild turkey, bass or brook trout. The average outdoorsman was a locavore long before terms such as "going local" or "organic" were even considered buzzwords.
In the process of enjoying their pursuits, sporting enthusiasts also serve as game managers, stewards and conservationists. Hunters and anglers deserve great respect for their contributions; they are collecting indigenous, environmentally sustainable food for themselves and their families from the local environment.
The common hyperbole advanced by anti-hunting groups that describes hunters as barbaric backwoodsmen slaughtering a defenseless Bambi couldn't be farther removed from the truth.
We should all thank the men and women dressed in plaid for their efforts to sustain and maintain the natural environment and its natural harvest. It is a part of our heritage and a major component of the traditional culture of the Adirondacks.
Retired ranger still on the trail
In early August, I ran into retired forest ranger Pete Fish of Keene Valley while on the trail to Mt. Marcy. He was on his 695th hike up the big hill. I was on my way down.
For a major portion of a distinguished career as a forest ranger, Pete patrolled the High Peaks Wilderness Area. He was well known for his efforts to educate travelers on the necessities of wilderness preparedness.
Over the years, numerous hikers received one of Pete's good-natured lectures for their lack of adequate footwear (sneakers just don't make the cut) or the need for a flashlight and other such hiking essentials.
Though he has long since retired the familiar green uniform, Pete continues to enjoy the High Peaks. He called last week to invite me to join him for his 700th climb of Mt. Marcy, but unfortunately I couldn't make it.
"Like so many of us have wanted, it was the first major peak I climbed in the Adirondacks; I guess it was in 1959", Pete told me, "There's a spot just shy of Marcy Dam where I sat down by a big rock with my old, unpadded canvas pack - and I just knew I was going to die. But we made it to a lean-to at Indian Falls and it was empty.
"We got to the top the next day, and I recall that there was a grassy meadow near the plaque and McDonald's stone shelter was still up there. It still had the metal roof intact.
"I do enjoy that mountain; it has more loveliness than any other mountain," he continued. "The mile after Marcy Dam is always a joy, and Indian Falls is a great view. There's always someone to talk to; the climb is always a social occasion."
I spoke with Pete earlier this week to see how he felt about his 700th ascent, hiking in a traditional Scottish kilt. I asked, "Are you ever going to stop?"
"Well, I'm now at number 702", Pete answered. It had been less than a week since the 700 mark, and there was no end in sight.
"In the woods is perpetual youth. Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand year. In the woods we return to reason and faith. ... In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds something as beautiful as his own nature." -Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Congratulations, Pete; may you remain forever young at heart!
Golfer sentenced in hawk killing
In Orlando, Fla., the Orlando Sentinel reports that pro golfer Trip Isenhour has been sentenced for his killing of an endangered red-shouldered hawk last December.
The raucous hawk had reportedly been disturbing the videotaping of a golf instructional video featuring the 40-year-old PGA Tour professional.
Incensed by the racket the hawk was making, Isenhour repeatedly hit golf shots at the bird, finally hitting - and killing - it with what must have been a pretty smartly struck iron shot.
Last Friday, Isenhour pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges of cruelty to animals and killing a migratory bird and agreed to a list of conditions to his not getting a stint in the pokey for his whack-a-hawk episode. Isenhour was sentenced to one year of supervised probation, four hours of anger-management classes and 100 hours of "alternative community service" - 40 of which will be completed at a wildlife or animal shelter.
In a true show of repentance, Isenhour bought out the remaining community service hours by making a donation of $1,500 to the Busch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jupiter, Fla.