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There’s a little game going around facebook right now where someone gives you a numerical year, and you write a post on what you were doing that year. This story is about 1990 – the summer of 1990, between my sophomore and junior years of college. I was 20 years old, more than half my lifetime ago.

First I need to tell you a little about the college I went to, Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. It’s an “alternative” school, meaning the academic system is different than most schools. There is no credit system, and no grades. In fact there is no “freshman”, “sophomore” etc status. Schoolwork was completed by a “Division” system – I, II, and III. Div I was an introduction to the main academic disciplines. Div II was akin to choosing a major. Once I chose my major, I documented it with a portfolio of classes, papers, internships, and other scholarly pursuits that supported it. Div III was similar to a thesis year, where I chose one specific aspect of major to pursue in depth.

My field of interest was ‘environmental education’. Without getting into the specifics of my plan, I can tell you that as I approached my junior year at Hampshire I was worried about what my Div III thesis would be. It had to be something big, big enough to spend an entire year researching and writing. I saw other students at Hampshire during the their Div IIIs doing all this amazingly creative stuff, way beyond what most college students did at the undergrad level. I loved everything about environmental education – the kids I worked with, being in nature, learning about nature, teaching it – but I still did not know what my big Div III project would be. The pressure was on.

This is where the second character of my story comes in, lets call him Larry. Larry was a friend who lived in the area but was a little older than college age. He was an environmental activist and former environmental educator. Truth be told, he was more than a friend. We had an off again, on again romantic relationship.

We were in an “off again” phase when he came up with a great idea earlier that spring in 1990. It sounded like an adventure, a fun way to spend the summer outdoors, and would be excellent fodder for my Div III thesis. It was the kind of big crazy project that Hampshire students came up with all the time. We called it “Trekkin’ Turtle Island”, and here was the plan: We (Larry and I and some of his friends) would hike the  Appalachian Trail all summer. Not the whole thing, since we just had 3 or 4 months, but the New England portion, from Connecticut to Maine. We wouldn’t rush, and it wouldn’t be just a recreational hike. It would have an environmental activism and education mission.

We researched environmental issues along the AT corridor, and decided to focus our message on wildlife- extinct or endangered species native to the areas we were passing through. We’d talk to hikers we’d meet along the way about these environmental problems and challenges, thereby educating people and bringing attention to the issues. Maybe we even created petitions to obtain signatures and later mail to legislators. Frankly, I don’t remember the details.

In order to spark conversations, we decided each one of us would pick a species and dress up like that animal. If I recall correctly, there was a timber rattlesnake, a lynx, and a wolf. Realistically, our costumes couldn’t be too complicated since we’d be spending all day, every day hiking for miles upon miles. I think I was the rattlesnake, and my costume consisted of a sturdy baseball cap with a hand-sewn, stuffed replica of the animal attached to it in front and back. Then, in an effort that pre-dated my graphic design pursuits by at least 10 years, I created an illustration in black and white with those three animals, underneath the arched title of our project, ‘Trekkin’ Turtle Island’, which I had silkscreened on dozens of brightly colored heavy-duty T-shirts. We wore those shirts while hiking, and think we also planned to sell them as a fundraiser to cover the costs of our trip. Then I designed brochures on speckled recycled paper that described our project’s mission, to distribute along the way.

We called it “Trekkin Turtle Island” because according to Native American Iroquois lore, the earth was created on the back of a giant turtle, and thus ‘Turtle Island’ is their name for North America.

Our project was well-conceived and well-organized. We wrote to outdoor equipment companies requesting sponsorship and donations. We even got a small grant from the Earth First Foundation. We bought our maps and guides, backpacks and other gear, planned the trip, where we’d arrive when, when we’d need re-supplies, and then shipped food to post offices at those places so food would be waiting for pickup. I planned to keep a detailed journal of each day’s events, who we met along the trail, and what we discussed.

The core hiking team consisted of myself, Larry, and another outdoorsy young woman named Ann I did not know well, an environmental activist from Geneseo, NY who had somehow heard about our trip and was keen to participate. Other friends would drop in along the way and hike with us for a day or two and then return home. We departed from southwestern CT in late spring and headed north along the Appalachian Trail.

The days took on a steady routine – hike, eat meals, find swimming holes, more hiking. Nights were spent at established AT shelters along the way.

I wish I could say the trip was a resounding success, but it was not. Almost immediately, Larry developed an attraction for our female hiking partner. Even though he and I were ‘just friends’ at this point, it was very awkward. Soon – very soon – friendly interpersonal communications deteriorated, and all three of us felt we were on a forced march rather than a fun adventure. Larry and his new friend decided to leave the trail and abandon the project. I didn’t know what to do. I had no other plans that summer, having invested so much time & energy into this one. I decided to keep going, solo. I figured there were many people on the trail during the warm summer months and I’d soon meet fellow hikers and make new friends.

As it turned out, after about two weeks of this, I was lonely. So I gave up and left the trail in the Berkshires of western Mass. I spent a day wandering around Great Barrington deciding what to do. Trekkin’ Turtle Island was over. It had failed. Miserably. Disappointed and disillusioned, I was probably not in the best frame of mind, and decided to hitchhike to Burlington VT to stay with my college friend Susan for a few days. Please don’t tell my mother about this last part.

Fortunately I arrived safely, and the summer was still young. My friend Joe got me a job as a camp counselor on a dude ranch in Prescott AZ, and thus it turned out to be an interesting summer after all.

I went back to college in the fall, and for my Div III, eventually decided to write an environmental education curriculum for middle school students on Native American culture and lore of the local area, combined with a documentation of my teaching work at a local Audubon nature sanctuary.

I graduated from Hampshire College in 1992, and after doing the nearly-obligatory drive across the country with my friend Jessica, returned to western Mass. and moved to a commune, er, ‘intentional community’ called Earthlands in a rural part of the center of the state, where I was to head up a blossoming educational program. But that’s a story for another time.

maple syrup, maple candy, maple creme, maple coffee, maple tea, maple pulled pork, maple syrup boiling… need I say more?*

* plus one cute pug puppy

This past weekend I took my dogs for an early spring hike at Fillmore Glen State Park, in Moravia, NY, not too far from where I live. As we climbed the steep road, I noticed all these partially frozen puddles displaying unusual organic patterning. I don’t know what causes it, but thought it was visually kind of interesting and beautiful in its own unique way.

Kind of like my dog, Umber – also organic, unique and unusual – enjoying the breeze from the car window, on the way to the park.

Dr. Temple Grandin

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing one of my heroes, Dr. Temple Grandin, live in person at TC3. (The event was sponsored by one of my clients, Franziska Racker Centers, an organization based in Tompkins County, NY, that serves people with autism and other developmental disabilities).

Her talk was about her experiences with autism, and what it’s like to be a visual learner (as opposed to auditory or other type; being one myself, I perked up and listened closely to what she had to say on the topic). She also mentioned the new HBO movie that just came out about her, starring Claire Danes. Dr. Grandin seems very pleased with the movie and feels the actress portrayed her very accurately, in the phase of her life when she was young, and what she defines as being “pre-anti-depressants” (FYI, it’s playing at Cornell Cinema this Thursday, and Temple Grandin will be there)

Although I am interested in the subject of autism, and cannot applaud this amazing woman hard & long enough for all she has manged to accomplish in her life and career as an autistic person, what makes her my hero is what she has accomplished working with the handling of animal factory farms in this country, to make them more humane.

This is a really important subject to me – if you know anything about me you’ll know I’m a foodie, and I always think about where my meat comes from when making purchasing decisions. I was a vegetarian for many years, mostly because I abhor the conditions of animals kept in factory farms and the cruel manner in which I learned the slaughterhouses handle them. I started eating meat again about three years ago when I moved to the Finger Lakes region because I was able to locate farms where animals are raised and slaughtered compassionately, and buy directly from them (a good example, and one of my faves, is PDH Buffalo Farm, located in Sempronius, NY).

Dr. Temple Grandin’s work in this area is the subject of the book, Animals in Translation. Last night I purchased another book (which she signed), Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals. I look forward to reading it and gaining insight into the care I provide my beloved pets.

alpaca at the Cayuga County Fair

Patagonia pup

Patagonia pup

alpaca at the Cayuga County Fair
4-H-ers exercising their frisky calves at the Cayuga County Fair

4-H-ers exercising their frisky calves at the Cayuga County Fair

Dock Dogs: annual event whereby canines who are trained to leap off a ledge and go flying into a pool of water.

Dock Dogs: annual event whereby canines who are trained to leap off a ledge and go flying into a pool of water.

I’ve been negligent in writing blog entries lately, now that the rainy season has ended. Instead I’ve been out & about trying to get the most out of summer. And dear readers, let me tell you, that looong, cold, harsh central NY winter IS worth it when summer finally arrives. Here’s a smattering of recent adventures:

• Cayuga County Fair

• backpacking in the ‘dacks with husband and dog in tow

High Falls in the Adirondacks, reached only by arduous backpack thru marshes, woods, and over beaver dams.

High Falls in the Adirondacks, reached only by arduous backpack thru marshes, woods, and over beaver dams.

• kayaking on Cayuga Lake

Paddling in Aurora, NY

Paddling in Aurora, NY

• hay day at the ag museum, Auburn, NY

Mennonite family watching old-fashioned hay demo at O'Hara Ag Museum in Auburn, NY

Mennonite family watching old-fashioned hay demo at O'Hara Ag Museum in Auburn, NY

• u-pick blueberries

Biggest friggin' blueberries I've ever seen (Newfield, NY)

Biggest friggin' blueberries I've ever seen (Newfield, NY)

• adopted two more SPCA “unadoptable” felines; one is a big mush and has become my office muse

newest adoptee from SPCA: Neitzsche the cat

newest adoptee from SPCA: Neitzsche the cat

• and finally, relaxing in the rockers and being a porch potato

Watching the corn grow

Watching the corn grow

a still from movie I shot at fair Haven Beach State Park

a still from movie I shot at fair Haven Beach State Park

During the first six months of 2009, I participated in an intensive and esteemed program called Leadership Cayuga (LC) with about 25 other people (Much has been previously documented and written about LC, so I won’t go into the details of its history or purpose – click here to learn more).

As part of our many activities, we were responsible for undertaking a county-wide scavenger hunt, on our own time and at our own pace over the course of 6 months. There were many items on the list and the goal was to get at least 200 points, with most items fetching 10 points apiece. One of the items on the list was “an art project”, which I decided to take on using online mapping and video. I documented my travels around Cayuga County with both a camera and a video camera, with special focus (groan) on the county’s many parks and natural areas and the trips I made to these places with my dog, Rory, in tow. Among the places I explored and filmed were Fillmore Glen, Fair Haven Beach, Bear Swamp, Howlands Island, and Long Point.

In some of the videos I’ve created a musical soundtrack, while in others I’m narrating about such things as nature sitings, comments about cute things Rory is doing, and other observations.

The video camera was on loan from BOCES, with whom I partnered to create the videos, as I had never previously used or even held a video camera prior to this project. I worked with instructor Terry Cuddy and his media and graphic design students to edit the resulting 5 or 6 videos which were then uploaded to the appropriate place on the Flikr map where each was filmed.

I chose to film these places because exploring natural areas with my dog (and husband) is one of my all-time favorite activities. Access to nature is one of the reasons I chose to move to central New York from New York City two years ago. The natural beauty of Cayuga County inspires me daily and greatly contributes to my quality of life.

Flikr map with photos and video of Cayuag County points of interest

Flikr map with photos and video of Cayuag County points of interest

Joe and the fish

Joe and the fish

My friend Joe is an avid fisherman. This is a pic he took of a landlocked salmon he caught in Skaneateles Lake a few weeks ago.

“As you can tell from the picture of the fillets – coming out of the cold Skaneateles water in April, the meat is as pink as an Alaskan run true Atlantic Salmon. As with any good piece of fish, the secret was in the handling of the meat, not so much the recipe – I caught the fish at 5:30 am, put the fillets immediately on ice for 12 hours and broiled it that night for dinner with nothing more than a hoisin/soy sauce glaze for 10 minutes and it was fabulous. I brush the glaze on before I put it under the broiler, which acts to protect the meat from burning, and again halfway through cooking it. The two fillets with a side of steamed asparagus were more than my wife and I could eat. Just for kicks, we also drank a bottle of Salmon Run Riesling with it from Keuka Lake and called it dinner!”

salmon fillets

salmon fillets

This morning before work, my designer Melissa and I took a walk with the dog out back, through the alfalfa fields, on the edge of some scraggly moist woods. Melissa has an even more valid claim to being nature-girl-turned-designer than I do – I grew up in the NJ ‘burbs, but she is a true country girl, raised right here in central NY. She spent childhood summers catching crayfish and nightcrawlers for her dad’s bait business.

Later that evening (for my dog’s second daily walk) I went to the same place and pulled a handful to use for dinner in conjunction with freshly-harvested asparagus, the first of the season (which happily grows unassisted-remember, I’m a citiot – in a plot in my yard). I sauteed the minced wild leeks (also called ramps) with garlic and olive oil, added the fresh asparagus, and then some cooked spinach and cheese ravioli to coat. The asparagus was sweet and tender, not woody and slightly bitter the way it can be from the store. Delish!

sauteed asparagus and ramps

sauteed asparagus and ramps

ravioli with wild leeks and asparagus

ravioli with wild leeks and asparagus

closeup1Within the past 48 hours, the front of my house has erupted in daffodils (and a few tulips too).daff_houseimg_39591

tulips1

close up of a lucky stone

close up of a lucky stone

This past Sunday I brought some out-of-town friends to Long Point State Park in Aurora to hunt for ‘Lucky Stones’ (rather than Easter eggs) – This is our local natural phenomena: a tiny hole, drilled perfectly, naturally, and mysteriously in a smooth gray beach stone. The west-facing shore was too cold and windy, but along the southern shore the rock beach was warm and protected, so we settled in for the hunt. The ground is littered with ’em.

None of us know exactly how they are formed, although we each have a fave theory (a grain of sand, weatherered away over time, or maybe an excavated, fossilized worm hole? But why only on the shores of Cayuga Lake, in such abundance?)

Hunting for Lucky Stones

Hunting for Lucky Stones

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